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Unconventional Sports Guide 

Are you out of shape? Do you find yourself with some spare time throughout the week, thinking, "I should be doing something other than sitting in front of the TV watching the third hour of this 'Jersey Shore' marathon?" Do you simultaneously want to get in shape, but hate all of the things you would have to do to realize that desire? Well, Little Rock has a lot to offer runners, walkers and cyclists – not to mention plenty of gyms – but there are some more, shall we say, unconventional sports out there too. And they're just waiting for you to come along and sign up.

Kickball. His name is Larry Betz, but you can just call him Poo. As in "the grand poo-bah of all things kick ball." Betz started the league in 2004, nearly on a whim. Now, there are more than 100 kickball teams in Central Arkansas."The biggest component is the social aspect," Betz said. "It's a great way to get out and meet people and be active and introduce yourself to a whole new social circle."

There are fall, spring and winter leagues. The fall league usually runs from mid-August until the end of October. The spring season goes from the first of March until around Memorial Day. The winter league is the quirkiest because practices and games take place on the dance floor of The Electric Cowboy -- and playing kickball inside a giant country club seems like one one of those "you never knew how bad you wanted it" things,right?

If you're interested in starting a team, it only takes nine players but you can have as many as 20. If you just want to sign up solo, your name will go on a list and one of the team captains will pick you up.

"We do community service and fund-raising every season," Betz says. "Through our nonprofit, the Big Red Ball Charitable Foundation, we raised over $300,000 for charity. Animals and kids are what we focus on."

For more information, check out the Facebook page.

And stay tuned for the new Beach Volleyball league, which Betz is also organizing in the sand pit behind Flying DD in early 2013.

Women's semi-pro football. Little Rock supports two teams, the Banshees and the Wildcats, it's full tackle, and there's nothing ladylike about it. Some of these players are built like tanks, and the tiny ones are lightening-quick. In their 2012 season, the Banshees experienced separated shoulders, torn Achilles and multiple ripped ACL’s. “These girls aren’t sissies. They don’t hold back. They hit like guys,” said Rae Meyer team owner.

Teams are formed each summer, practice three times a week year round, travel as far as Houston for away games and host traveling teams at local high school fields. The season lasts about three months, beginning in late April.

Both the Wildcats and the Banshees hold tryouts at specific times but welcome new players anytime. Among the teams’ ranks there are nurses, restaurant workers, college students, stay at home mom’s and female impersonators.

Amy Wilson, a hulking linewoman, joined the Banshees to chronicle the experience for a sociology project. But the 32-year-old UALR student, certified EMT and Sunday school teacher stayed on after her project ended. "Some women get manicures to de-stress," she said. "I just hit somebody."

For more information, contact the Banshees or call David Smith of the Wildcats at (501) 743-6326.

Roller derby. "We will teach people how to skate if they can't skate," says Amanda Homan, a blocker for the Rockin' Renegades, Little Rock's own roller derby team. "Experience is great, but it's not necessary. One of our best blockers could not skate when she first started."

Homan is also the secretary for the Central Arkansas Roller Derby league, which has been around since 2006. The league consists of one team with "varsity" and "junior varsity" versions, but Homan would like to see that grow. The Renegades practice together and travel around the South playing other squads from Dallas, Huntsville, Jackson and Joplin, to name a few.

"The biggest stereotype we're trying to break is that it's fake," Homan says. "It's not. It's really real and it's empowering for women. We still have the campy nicknames. I go by Kitty Kismet. We've got Cocoa Booty and Mary Lou Wreckin'. But nothing is fake."

The team meets for practices and bouts at Skate World off Mabelvale Cutoff in Little Rock. For more information, send an e-mail to recruits@cearderby.com. You can also find the league on Facebook. Just search for Central Arkansas Roller Derby. Or check out their webpage.

Broomball. Broomball migrated from our northerly neighbors, the Canadians, as a gentler, sloppier hockey. Players slosh around on the ice in their tennies, swatting at a little red ball with brooms. Sound fun? Arkansas Skatium has open broomball, which means that groups can rent the rink late nights (after 11 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends), gear up and get to swattin’. Skatium has about forty brooms, but since the game is intended for two teams of six, a large group might want to take turns on the ice. It costs about $12 per person, per hour. Check the Skatium webpage or call 227-4333 for more info.

Bike polo. Have you ever seen video of an old-school polo match and thought, "That would be really fun to do on a bike instead of a horse"? Well, a group of Little Rockers is giving it their best shot. The bike polo squad meets at the street hockey courts at MacArthur Park Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Nathan Vandiver has been playing with the bike polo team since it first started. It's fun and it's easy to get started, he says.

"You just need a bike. Really you could come without one and somebody would probably let you borrow one. We have mallets. We have extra helmets. It's good to have gloves to help hold onto the handle bars and protect your hands if you fall. We have all the other stuff."

Worried about falling over? You probably should be, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it, Vandiver says.

Look for "Little Rock Bike Polo" on Facebook to find out more, or visit lrbpolo.blogspot.com.

Rock climbing and bouldering. The secret’s out – north Arkansas has prime rock and folks are willing to travel, sometimes by plane, to check it out. If you can’t make it to Jasper every weekend, the Little Rock Climbing Center is the best place to hone your skills. We’re not talking about scrambling over some rocks here – we’re talking scaling 30 to 70 feet walls of sheer rock (or bolted plastic), attached to metal hooks via a safety harness. Bouldering is all about climbing low overhangs with no harness, after tossing a couple of crash pads over the rocks to cushion any falls.

The Little Rock Climbing Center hosts spring and fall climbing competitions, as well as weekly summer bouldering competitions, and it’s the home of a few youth climbing teams. There’s also Horseshoe Hell, a major climbing competition in Jasper each September, where climbers stay awake -- and climbing -- for 24 hours. Call 227-9500 for more information on local climbing.

Fencing. Steve Lein stated the Central Arkansas Fencing Club in 2009 and it's done nothing but grow ever since. The club currently has around 40 members and there's a new beginner's class every few months. The sport, he says, is more than just swordplay.

"Physical chess is a description I've seen used repeatedly," Lein says. "It requires a lot of mental concentration, agility, strength and finesse. But the really cool thing is that it doesn't matter if you're 80 years old or 8 years old. If you're tall, short, fat, out-of-shape — anybody can fence."

To sign up, send an e-mail to cafencing@gmail.com. The beginner's class lasts 10 weeks and will teach you the basics. The starting fee, which isn't due until after your first class, is $60 and that includes a glove.

The club also has a website (www.cafencing.com) and Facebook page.

"Right now there aren't a lot of Americans playing cricket," says the league's president, Anil Patel. "But if you want to learn something you can come. Cricket leagues are starting up in cities everywhere. When we started in 1997, we only had about 15 people. Now we have 236 on 11 teams."

If you'd like to join a team, you can e-mail Patel at patel64@yahoo.com. For most, there will be a learning curve, but Patel says that's not a problem.

"If you come continuously, you could probably learn in four or five weeks," he says. "Basically you just have to learn the rules. We can explain the whole thing, when the innings are over and when to go bat and how to bowl. It takes time. You can't come in one hour and learn everything. The first day you might not know what's going on, but the next time you come you can see how it works."

Gaelic football. “To someone just looking at it, it looks like people playing soccer using their hands,” said Jonathan Ball, president of the Little Rock Gaelic Athletic (LRGAA) Association. Although Gaelic football became officially codified in 1887, it’s related to older varieties of Irish football. Both U.S. football and rugby are somewhat based upon Gaelic football, which is currently the most popular sport in Ireland. can kick and carry the ball, there’s no full-body tackling, but shoulder-to-shoulder contact is allowed. There are at least 110 Gaelic football clubs in the U.S., and for the past three years Little Rock has hosted one of them. The team was founded by the players, many who are members of the Irish diaspora. Coach John Lambert grew up playing the game in Ireland. The season lasts from March through August, practices are Thursdays and Saturdays at Burns Park, and each year the LRGAA hosts a tournament. The team also travels to play in out of town tournaments. It’s free to play and open to anyone 14 and up (current roster even has a few players in their fifties), no tryouts necessary. For more information, call Ball at 607-2356 or email him at jonball@hotmail.com. There’s also a webpage.

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