Kickball: The Greatest Show on Dirt

The self proclaimed “Greatest Show on Dirt” is back for another summer at Dexter Park on the West Side.  Yes, the Providence Kickball League (PKL) has everything that makes summer away from the beaches weird and wonderful: costumes, a sport most of us last played in elementary school and beer. As much theater as it is sport, the PKL is an entertaining afternoon for both spectators and players alike.

The rules are basic playground style kickball with a twist. All teams are co-ed and must have at least one female on the field at all times. When the league was founded, the only real rule was “no whining,” but as its popularity increased a few more formal tongue-in-cheek rules were added, like “Bribery is encouraged. Open corruption is the only fairness Providence has ever known.”

Sean Larkin, founder of Revival Brewery, is the long standing commish of the PKL. He is equal parts field landscaper, scheduler, rules interpreter and overall kickball Svengali.  Although he is too modest to admit it, the league would have disbanded multiple times without his leadership, and the reverence he is treated with at the field reflects the amount of respect he garners from the diverse group of players. “It’s a children’s game and we took it and and adapted it for adults. The goal is to just try to ensure that everyone who comes to the field has a great time.”

Teams all have themes with the concepts ranging from the simple to the surreal. Ball 12 is the Channel 12 news team, the Unstopaballs are superheroes and the Jedi Mind Kicks dress as characters from Star Wars, while Muscle Cobra are an inspired combination of the Cobra Kai dojo from Karate Kid combined with the experimental results of those karate masters taking a fictional illegal energy drink/steroid called “Horse Power.” So yeah, things can get a little weird, and that’s when it is the most fun. The all-female team The Stilettos are one of the OGs of PKL lore and usually come in lingerie or some form of distracting dress, while the Glamazons are gender-bending rock gods and goddesses who have had many contests decided by dance-offs that don’t have much to do with what actually happened on the field.

The entire afternoon (there are 18 teams and games run 1 hour back-to-back and usually take the entire Saturday afternoon) is fueled by copious amounts of beer and delicious wares of various food truck vendors. Folks will come for their game and stay to socialize or pack a blanket and make a day of watching all the fun.

Like Shakespeare (and I am sure this will be the first and last time the PKL is compared to Shakespeare), you really need to experience it first-hand, rather than reading about it. And like the Bard’s other summer staple in the park, when you have a match-up with both teams in full costume playing a child’s game at a competitive level, the experience can range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Also noteworthy is how diverse and accepting the league is. You don’t need to be good at sports, or even have any experience with the game. Whatever your background, or beliefs, or lifestyle, it’s likely you will find a team where you will fit in and have a blast.

Providence Kickball League is more than just the pageantry of professional wrestling combined with schoolyard recess. The league has been the birthplace of countless friendships, romances and businesses. There has even been an on-field wedding ceremony. Many of the players would proudly proclaim that “ball is life,” but when it comes to kickball and the PKL, the relationships jump from the field to every part of life, creating lifelong bonds that supersede the final score.