The bustling online forums for NW Kickball—Portland's very popular adult kickball league—are usually a space for good-natured shit-talking between opposing teams, or arranging weekend pick-up games. Last week, however, these same forums got nasty—brimming with gossip about breakaway factions and secret meetings.
The feud started when the volunteer-run NW Kickball league restructured themselves into a for-profit company, prompting the formation of a brand-new league, Oregon Kickball Club (OKC), led by former NW Kickball leaders. The emergence of the OKC, coupled with the NW Kickball news, sparked an all-out war of playground proportions within Portland's growing kickball community.
"What the hell is going on? Why the secrecy?" one anonymous person posted on NW Kickball's busy online forums (nwkickball.com). "Do I join [the new league]? Or stay loyal to old school?" Griping and accusations ensued, including one rumor that the new league's leaders had asked NW Kickball's team captains to attend a covert meeting and sign a commitment to their newly formed league (a point the new league's leaders deny).
Others started firing questions at NW Kickball's Colleen Finn about the new for-profit company's structure: "Are the parties going to be only as good as the bottom line now? Are fees going up?"
On Sunday night, February 26, at Billy Reed's on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Finn, one of the founders of the NW Kickball, outlined her big plans to a crowd of kickballers : The league had outgrown its volunteer-run nonprofit status, so she'd turned it into a for-profit company that she hoped would continue to grow. "To meet the demand of local adults wanting to get their shot at schoolyard redemption, the business model needed to change," Finn explained in a letter she passed out.
Most kickballers at the meeting were into the changes. However, a few stayed late to discuss the "splinter" league that had emerged—led by some of Finn's former NW Kickball volunteers.
"We had a different vision," explains kickballer Caroline Scott, one of the five people—former NW Kickball and Portland Co-ed Adult Dodgeball presidents—who jumpstarted the OKC (oregonkickball.com). "[We wanted] a small, community-based league that's about kickball and competition, camaraderie and involvement."
On February 22—after meeting with other kickball players to assess the level of support for a new league—they sent out an email to Portland's kickball community, officially announcing their new venture.
"[Finn's new] laid-out plan for growth was contrary to the small, community-based organization that we understood to be the original vision agreed upon by all of the founders," the new league's presidents wrote. "We see [this new league] as a return to our original mission of a strong community-based league."
The leaders of this newfound league say they're just offering a different league style to meet the needs of a growing part of Portland's kickball community—they aren't trying to sink NW Kickball.
"We're not really setting up to compete with other leagues," says Alicia Joy, one of the new OKC's founders. In fact, they hope to hold games on a different night than Finn's league, so teams can play in both.
So why the drama-fest? To their credit, both Finn and the new league's founders are trying to stay above the fray, and are polite—though guarded—when discussing the other league.
Both leagues' leaders chalk the controversy up to the sheer size of Portland's kickball community and the rumor mill that naturally ensues. NW Kickball started with just 10 teams in 2003, but over 30 played last year, with another 30-plus teams on a waiting list. In fact, the sport has grown so popular over the past few years that there are hundreds of players—all of whom have different ideas on which way their sport should (or shouldn't) grow.
"That's why there is such a huge uproar," says Joy. Any changes "are inevitably going to affect a number of people," explains BJ Kahle, another OKC founder.
Regardless, they really hope the kickball community's angst will abate: "Right now there is kind of this split," Joy says. "But we're united in our love of kickball." Finn agrees: "We just want to play kickball!" she says.