They're just kickin' it

They're just kickin' it

If you passed by the University of Illinois admissions building at noon on a recent sunny fall day, you would have seen a game that looked like it belonged on an elementary school playground. The staff at the Office of Admissions and Records plays a weekly kickball game in the grass between the admissions building and Spurlock Museum.

It started with a kickball game at an annual admissions cookout. Then the admissions staff members started playing once a week during good weather. They’ve been doing so for a half dozen or so years now.

Blog PhotoThe players say the games are a way for them to get away from their desks and be active, run around and get some exercise at lunchtime. It’s also a way for them to get to know people in the various departments at admissions and also people from around campus.

“Our office has a lot of different employees all working on different parts of admissions. We don’t always get to interact, and with so many employees in the building, we don’t all know each other,” said April Ponte, an admissions counselor.

Kyle Merkle, a regular player who works in processing undergraduate applications, said: “I’ve met some great people playing this game. It’s just fun. I enjoy it. I see them in the hall and we can joke around and trash talk each other.”

When Ponte joined the admissions office, she was afraid to play.

“I’m not good at sports. After my first year in admissions, I realized it was all about having fun with the people I work with. They don’t care if I can’t kick a ball well,” she said. “They all know I’m going to probably get out right away. Even though they are really competitive, they just want people to come out and play. They love that I play and they’re really supportive of me.”

Blog PhotoLaura Podeschi, a senior editor in the office of communications for enrollment management, administers an email listserv of about 50 people, not all of whom are active players. There are about 20 regulars, and at least 10 people need to commit to play for each weekly game. Not all the players are from admissions. Anyone is welcome to play, and employees from around campus have learned about the kickball games through word-of-mouth and joined in.

One of them is Tenea Harris, an area secretary for the five residence halls at Ikenberry North. She comes from across campus, at First Street and Gregory Drive, to play. The kickball games bring back memories from childhood for her.

Blog Photo“Only kids get to play kickball, right?” Harris said. “This was my favorite PE activity in grade school.”

On this day, a passer-by who stopped to watch was invited to join in. Victor Martin was visiting from Spain to see his girlfriend, who is a doctoral student at the UI. When he was asked to play, “I answered that I don’t know how to play this game, but I can learn,” he said.

One of the other players drew a chalk diagram on the sidewalk to help explain the rules.

The small playing field has made some unique rules -- many borrowed from baseball -- necessary. A tree and a light post are the foul poles. If a kicker has three fouls, he or she is out.

If a ball is hit into a tree and it is caught as it falls from the branches, before it hits the ground, the runner is out. If the ball gets stuck in the branches, it’s a ground rule double.

Blog PhotoThe teams also play pitcher’s hand, so a throw from a fielder to the pitcher that is caught before the runner reaches first base results in an out.

“It’s hard to throw from third to first with a kickball,” Podeschi said.

The teams keep track of the innings and the score by writing in chalk on the sidewalk. The recent game was quite lopsided, with the Trolls defeating the Models 31-12. The players name an MVP after every game, and this time it was Harris, who kicked a three-run home run to get the MVP honor.

The kickball season is winding down now. The group begins playing once temperatures are in the 50s in the spring, and they quit when temperatures fall below 45 degrees at midday in the fall. If there is a significant snowfall, though, Podeschi schedules the Winter Classic game. The last Winter Classic was several years ago, and players wore snow boots and pants and slid through the snow.

“It wasn’t really kickball, but it was fun,” Podeschi said.

The kickball players have also played one game in Memorial Stadium, with the pitcher’s mound on the 50-yard line, at the invitation of then-head football coach Tim Beckman, who was a celebrity participant on an admissions team for a step-counting challenge.

“Half of the building came and played in that one,” Merkle said.

The kickball season ends with a bragging rights game against staff from Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, across the street.


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at


Photos: Top: Thomas Skottene reacts to a player's boot after he rolled a pitch during a UI Office of Admissions kickball game earlier this month on campus. Second: Laura Podeschi, who manages the list of players, kicks the ball during a recent game. Third: Tenea Harris rounds third base and heads for home. Bottom: Kyle Merkle makes a catch. Photos by Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette

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