Many years ago, schools required students to participate in physical education, better known as PE class. This was usually 20 to 30 minutes of exercise or some type of team sport.
One of the most popular activities was kickball, an informal game that combined baseball and soccer. Students would kick an inflated rubber ball and proceed to run the bases.
Players did not have to jump high, run fast or throw hard. It was a popular playground outing that any young child could enjoy.
Now fast-forward to today. The national “GO Kickball” organization combines the sport of kickball with social networking. Co-ed teams in Mobile and Baldwin counties are now preparing for the spring season.
The first league in Mobile was formed in 2011, when Grant Zarzour was in his fourth year of medical school. He was playing softball in a city league, but knew that not everyone wanted to do that.
“A friend told me about a GO Kickball league in Birmingham,” Zarzour said. “I called them and said we wanted a Mobile market.
“No one else really wanted to do it. I hate to hear people moan and not be part of a solution. So my brother, Gaines, helped me get it started.”
The gamble paid off, but in a delayed manner. In their first season, the Mobile league sold 90 percent of its registration in the final 36 hours, and 50 percent in the last hour.
“We were shocked,” Zarzour said. “It was the second-largest first season ever for GO Kickball. We had 300 people that first year, which was just 30 people less than Atlanta.”
He added Atlanta and Birmingham have more people playing, but Mobile has the largest league for the city’s size.
The popularity has grown across the bay. A year and half after starting in Mobile, Zarzour began a league in Daphne. A separate group has now begun its own league in Gulf Shores.
A normal season in Mobile has about 40 teams, while the Daphne league has around 10 clubs. With an average of 15 to 18 players on each roster, this comes to almost 800 players.
“Our league has really grown,” Zarzour said. “We have done some marketing and handed out flyers. Plus there is the word of mouth. We are getting plugged into social media and seeing benefits of that.”
As for the game itself, Zarzour said the rules have not changed much since the days of PE classes. He said any understanding of baseball will allow someone to participate.
One major key to the league’s growth has been the use of paid referees.
“We pay the highest in the country,” Zarzour proudly said. “We have a really good group. They don’t leave us and they run a smooth game. Hiring them is one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
In Mobile, the games are played on the artificial turf soccer fields at Sage Park. Using the 60-foot base paths, four games can be played simultaneously on one soccer field. On the large softball field at Sage, three to four games can be played at once.
At Al Trione Park in Daphne, the kickball games take place on the football field.
“We really take advantage of any space we have,” Zarzour said. “We don’t need five full soccer fields to play five games.”
Games last one hour or seven innings, whichever comes first. Teams play every week. There are 11 players on defense, of which at least four must be female.
Once the game ends, the second attraction of the league kicks in. Each city has a “league bar” where players meet to mingle and get to know each other. In Mobile, players gather at O’Daly’s Irish Pub. In Daphne, it’s Moe’s Original BBQ.
“At least half of the players go to the bars after we play,” Zarzour said. “It is really a decent crowd. You meet so many new people that you can use to build a new team or join another group.”
Players must be at least 21 years old to participate in the league. In Daphne, one team comprises only senior citizens.
“It is really for anyone who wants to have fun on a Thursday night,” Zarzour said. “We are still competitive. We have playoffs where we give out a trophy and gift certificates.”
The deadline to sign up is March 6 at 6 p.m. To join any league in Mobile or Baldwin counties, visit www.gokickball.com and pick the city where you want to play. Those not having a team can join as a free agent and be assigned. The leagues also have Facebook pages at “gokickballsouthalabama” and “gkbesh.”
The first games will be played March 16 and the season continues for eight weeks. Theme weeks encourage members to dress up and show their creative side.
“This is not only a fun game, but it is a big social time for everybody,” Zarzour said. “You can forget about being serious for awhile.”
St. Paul’s coach hits century mark
Jim Tate, who coaches the boys and girls track and cross-country teams at St. Paul’s Episcopal School, recently directed the Lady Saints to their eighth consecutive indoor state title at the Birmingham CrossPlex. The Class 4A-5A crown marked the 100th career Alabama championship the Mobile school has claimed under his tenure.
Tate arrived at St. Paul’s in 1978 as the boys’ basketball coach. Since 1983, his track and cross-country teams also have 51 state runner-up finishes. The girls’ cross-country team set a national record by winning 16 straight state titles from 1983-98. Almost 60 of his former students have gone on to perform in the college ranks.
Tate has won several national and state coach of the year honors, and was inducted into sports hall of fames for Mobile in 2008, Alabama in 2011 and National High School in 2013. The track and cross-country field house at St. Paul’s is named for him.
Tate is a native of Mobile who attended University Military School. Prior to becoming a coach, he spent five years in the U.S. Army that included a tour in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.