The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
Wilson High saw the return of perhaps the city’s most underrated sports tradition last week, as school gatherings continue to return to the calendar after years of disruption from COVID-19. Wilson’s gym was filled to bursting on Monday at lunchtime, with a drumling, packed stands, officials, and athletes.
The sport? It wasn’t basketball or volleyball, sports that have won CIF-SS championships recently at Wilson. No, this was Wilson’s 16th annual lunchtime dodgeball championship, a student-run event that generates as much enthusiasm and excitement as any sport on any campus in Long Beach. Star swimmer Hank Rivers and Jesse Kolodny served as Wilson ASB Governors of Dodgeball this year, and the duo said they were blown away by the level of support and participation.
“We had 40 teams of six kids, so that’s 240 people who signed up to play,” said Kolodny. “COVID shut the tournament down in the Elite Eight in 2020 and we didn’t get to do it last year so we were freshmen the last time it happened.”
After weeks of tournament play, the 40-team bracket was whittled down to two teams: Poker Club and Girls’ Basketball. School rules dictate that each dodgeball team must be sponsored by a sports team or club, and Wilson saw record turnout this year with students excited to get back to pre-pandemic traditions.
For Monday’s championship, students streamed in as soon as they got out of class for lunch, and the crowd was loud and rowdy from the beginning as both teams were introduced and ran out of a tunnel of cheerleaders, through smoke from a dry ice machine. Wilson teachers (many of them veteran coaches) volunteered to officiate the championship, with the stakes too high for self-reporting.
The two teams of six played a best-of-five format that saw Girls’ Basketball win the first contest, and then Poker Club rally to win the next three, taking the 16th annual Wilson Dodgeball title by the score of 3-1. The winners were Dallas Cooper, Beck Peterson, Flynn Nulty, Nathan Gardenswartz-Gomez, Felipe Saavedra, and Ryan Burack.
The half-dozen members of the Poker Club didn’t leave empty-handed, either. They went back to the Wilson ASB room to take a picture with the tournament bracket, and also to be fitted for their championship rings, which are top-notch and look like CIF-SS championship rings.
Rivers said that a lot of work went into putting on the tournament, but that it was worth it.
“It wasn’t just us it was all of ASB making posters, getting reminders out to make sure people remembered what days to come in and watch, it was a lot to figure out but it was all worth it to see how much fun everyone had today,” he said.
Dodgeball will go into hibernation until next year sees the return of the tournament for its 17th incarnation, with Wilson activities director Erin Fekjar already excited to see how much bigger the event can get. In the meantime, many of Monday’s competitors will return to their current sport seasons already underway. Rivers, a Cal signee, will try to lead Wilson to a 49th consecutive Moore League boys’ swimming championship on April 29, while Burack and the Wilson baseball team will continue their march towards the playoffs.