Nine Freshmen Find Unique Ways to Continue Their Passion of WIFFLE Ball


Egan Smith

Rocco Zollo ’21 is a member of the WIFFLE Ball team the “Left Field Bombers”.

Egan Smith, Reporter

To most people, WIFFLE Ball may be just a game, but to nine City High students, it has become a way of life. About a year ago, a few neighborhood friends got together to play a pickup game of Wiffle ball— a game similar to baseball except played with a plastic ball and bat. From that day on, a new passion was formed inside each of them.

“When Jack [Carrell], Egan [Smith], Rocco [Zollo] and I played that exhibition game we just fell in love with it right away, it was a game changer,” Wolfe Fullenkamp ‘21, team owner of Mr. StealYourBase, said.

When they discovered how much they loved the game, they played all day on the weekends.

Until the sun went down, playing after school became a routine.

“A little after spring break like on the weekends we just dropped everything and would play forever,” Fullenkamp said. “[We] felt a lot like the guys from the sandlot.”

After a few games, many shortcuts and strategies were made to cheat the game. These methods were becoming a disadvantage towards the other teams and some rules were set in place to maintain fairness among the teams.

“Some problems were having to be continually addressed so the rules saved us some time over arguing about dumb issues,” Jack Carrell ‘21 said.

After a while, they decided to grab a few more teams and experiment with how it went.

“Well, we just thought ‘Hey, this is pretty fun. Let’s get some more guys in on this.’ Once we played they agreed too and a league was on the verge of forming.” Fullenkamp said.

Before long a loosely set of rules formed into what is now the ESBWL (East Side Bombers WIFFLE Ball League).

“Once we had the rules in place the league had pretty much been founded it just wasn’t formally established,” Carrell said.

Soon enough the league added six more expansion teams into the ESBWL. However, more problems arose with finding a way to divide up evenly matched teams.

“We just couldn’t find a way to form teams without evaluating players skill ability and comparing them to others. Instead, we dropped the whole team’s idea and instead created a 1 vs. 1 vs. 1 game system where there are pitchers and outfielders working together against a batter and then they switch up roles. This allowed individual teams to compete against each other without the hassle of like a 2 player team,” Jack Meis ‘21 said. “Scoring is modeled similarly to the EPL (English Premier League) where a win is worth three points, second place worth two points and last worth zero. Then at the end of the season, the top six scorers make it into the playoffs.”

WIFFLE Ball might be another form of entertainment, but it can also be used as another form of competition amongst friends. Jack Carrell says things can get heated fast and lead to some dangerous consequences.

“It’s all fun and games until someone flips their bat off a home run. Then it just escalated from there on out,” Carrell said. “We’ve seen thrown bats to charging the mound and even some dogs piles that led to a broken arm.”

Other teams comment on the environment and intensity levels when playing.

“When it’s just an exhibition, those are just fun. But when you really get into the regular season, when you’re actually competing for something, Oh it is intense,” Rocco Zollo ‘21 said.

Joe Fischer ‘21 says it adds another degree of awareness to the game.

“Yeah I mean I’m the same way. It’s terrifying to step into that box knowing that you could get pelted at any time because nobody cares,” Fischer said. “You just got to be ready too because even if you’re a pitcher and you accidentally hit somebody there’s no way to tell when you’re going to be charged and you just got to be ready at all times.”

Fullenkamp said that even over the summer when there’s no school the league still faced many setbacks. From not having enough guys to mother nature acting up, the league hit a rough patch over the summer.

“Originally the plan was to play 24/7 over the summer, as much as we could. Instead with my broken right arm and Egan’s knee surgery we were down two guys. And baseball took a hit obviously over summer with guys who had games and practices. Everyone’s on vacation when we need them,” Fullenkamp said. “We would certainly like to go all year long but you know the weather in Iowa. It really makes it an issue. We’ve seen a couple of slips on the ice that happened this past exhibition game. Even in the summer, it can be a problem. On windy days the ball won’t carry far enough so all you get are pop-ups which can make it much more difficult to score. That’s why we really need guys to be available on those nice summer days to fit in a few games.”

Many of the league’s participants are involved in the baseball-related activities as well. Most of their baseball traits and customs transfer over to wiffleball. However, some wiffleball habits can have negative effects on their baseball performance. A 30-foot difference between the two pitcher mounds can lead to a reduced reaction time. It can cause your mind to make shortcuts in your swing that could be beneficial in WIFFLE Ball but harmful to baseball. Carrell is worried his perception and timing in hitting could be thrown off.

“There are definitely some pros and cons of WIFFLE Ball,” Carrell said. “It can and will mess up your baseball habits. Not so much my swing, but I am afraid the speed and distance of the ball could trick my mind a little.”

Other players see how the concepts of WIFFLE Ball brings out the foundations of baseball. Fischer mentioned the technique of his swing and how WIFFLE Ball allows him to further develop parts of the motion.

“In wiffleball, the game forces you to drive through the ball with your hands and forearms. Otherwise, if you sit back on it and dip your shoulder and drive [the ball] through your lower body you’re going to fly-out a lot. That’s because you will hit the ball in an upward motion and since it’s such a light ball it’s gonna hang in the air. Those are the same principles that Coach Mitchell is teaching us in the cages at practice,” Fischer said.

As much as a baseball player can work on strengthening and technique, half the game is critical thinking in game situations. To master those skills a player needs to put themselves into a game-like experience. They should plan and expect every possible outcome of the next pitch and then properly execute that play. However, not many people are fortunate to have access to a baseball diamond and some opponents to practice such situations. WIFFLE Ball is an effective way for someone to gain experience in these areas without devoting much time to it.

“WIFFLE Ball is just a really simple way to play baseball,” Fullenkamp said. “You need nine guys for baseball compared to WIFFLE Ball where you only need three maybe four guys to play a game. Even two and you can hit a home run derby. Plus, the fields are significantly smaller so we are able to play in a game-like atmosphere in the luxury of it being in our own backyard.”

With a slim nine-team league, the ESBWL has many different thoughts on how to expand and broaden their horizons. Some of their ideas include going to social media to spread the word.

“We made YouTube and Instagram accounts for the league to hopefully get the word out,” Zollo said. “It’s really fun to edit and post videos or infographics. It may just seem boring to other people, but to us we really enjoy it.”

Many other members of the league are very excited for the broadcast of the games.

“I’m definitely in on the recording. This way we can edit it to attract more people and you know making it fun to watch for the fans,” Zollo said. “Hopefully they can see how much fun it really is and that they can do this too.”

“Because the more people actually get to play it the more they’ll appreciate the great sport of WIFFLE Ball,” Cooper Kirsching ‘21 said.

WIFFLE Ball is often seen as a form of entertainment but could also be used to raise money for certain causes.

“We’re actually looking to participate in some tournaments this year,” Fullenkamp said. “They’re kind of expensive but it’s a great way to spread the word about us and get our name out there.”

Co-editor for the league posts, Rocco Zollo thinks that the result of all his toil will be worth it in the end.

“People watching it they might find it very boring and lame, but I actually find it really entertaining,” Zollo said. “It is very tedious and does take hours at a time sometimes to edit. But you know I like it and I think it’s fun to see the end product.”

However, at the end of the day WIFFLE Ball is just a fun game and Fullenkamp would like to remind everyone to try and enjoy it.

“Well, the whole plan all along was to create a league the moment we played that first game. It’s just so cool to compare where it was a year ago to where it’s at now,” Fullenkamp said. “We just think that everyone should play the wonderful game of WIFFLE Ball and really that’s what we hope this article can spread to people.”