by Andrew Garda
If you drive through Brookdale Park this fall, you might see something other than soccer games or the odd jogger running along at the Tom Fleming Athletic Complex.
The Montclair Kickball League is getting ready to launch its fall season, and Brookdale Park is where you will come across them Sunday mornings in September.
Before he moved to Montclair from Hoboken, Geff Gardner spent Sunday mornings playing on the Hoboken Kickball League. Missing the Sunday morning activity and camaraderie, he started up Montclair’s kickball team in 2013.
“It [Hoboken kickball] was great and I made a lot of friends I still have now. When we moved out of Hoboken and into Montclair, I noticed there wasn’t any kickball and I missed that Sunday kickball atmosphere. So I decided you know what? I’ll just start my own league up,” Gardner said.
Gardner took the basic rules from the Hoboken league, added a few things and started finding players. Since the beginning of the league, he said they have had as many as eight teams and 140 players. This fall he expects six teams comprised of around 100 players.
The size of the teams can vary a little, but with a minimum of 11 players on the field, most teams carry more on the roster.
“A good team minimum size is 16,” Gardner said. “You want to have a couple of extra players because on any given week people have other commitments. If you have 16 people, maybe they all show up every week but realistically you might average 12 or 13. So we found that 16 is a good number.”
Interested players can sign up via the league’s website at MontclairKickball.com in one of three ways. They can sign up as a captain, likely with a ready-made team. Or they can sign up as a team player, which is what most players do since a lot of the league returns each year and likes to stick with the same team. Or they can sign up as a free agent and get placed with a team that needs players.
Gardner even made up a code for those looking to sign up before the August 19 registration deadline — MONTCLAIRLOCAL — which will save them $10 off the registration.
“Every year we get individuals, couples, a few friends and we’re always willing to take a group of any size and make them fit on a team,” Gardner said.
There are three seasons of kickball for the Montclair league. Aside from the fall league at Brookdale, there is a winter league, which gets played indoor at Sports Domain Academy in Clifton, and the spring league as well.
Each season has its own benefits and different players have their favorite. Gardner said he enjoys the fall weather the most, but that a lot of league members look forward most to the winter league.
“Because winter is played indoors and it’s not a full field,” Gardner explains. “So it’s kind of funkier rules because you have to play off of the walls, and ceiling so and a lot of people love the winter because it’s just so different.”
Another big aspect to the league is the off-field socializing.
The league has a sponsorship with Public House 46 in Clifton, and after every game all the teams and most of the players will go there and relax. There are drinking games and happy hour specials, but really it’s just a good way to hang out with new and old friends.
“The group we have, who have been playing the last few years, is very social,” Gardner said. “Not everyone is in it for the competition. A lot of people are in it for the social aspect and…plenty of people who have joined my league after playing in other ones have said that the best part about our league is the social aspect.”
As the league has grown older, that social aspect has extended outside the games as well. Because of the socializing at the pub, the minimum age to play is 21, but the games are family affairs.
“We’ve seen more married couples and more kids” Gardner said. “So, now people bring their kids or a significant other who doesn’t play and people hang out on the sidelines. People will show up and play games, like ladder golf, cornhole and things like that.”
Gardner said that the league has had members as young as 21, and as old as in the mid-70s and many of the players come back for more after their first season.
He also sees friendships formed on the field extend off of it as well.
“Almost everyone in the league I didn’t know before this,” he said. “And the cool thing is seeing groups that I know didn’t know each other before kickball, that they became friends because they’re on the same team. And you know, I’ll see on Facebook people are checking in somewhere and everyone is hanging out now because they met through kickball.”
The league even had a couple who met through it get married in the past year.
For Gardner, the forging of friendships—more than the games won or lost and the beers and wings consumed—is the point of the league.
“That feels really cool, knowing people who are friends because of kickball.”