Sheila Francis hadn't thought about kickball since elementary school.
The 24-year-old was surprised when she was invited last summer to play on a kickball team organized by Gameday Sports League at Fort Boise. A friend of a friend said the team needed another player. She played through the six-week season, and is now on an indoor kickball team.
"I showed up without knowing a single person at this thing," Francis said. "It turned out to be so much fun."
About half of the 800 people in new Gameday leagues are playing kickball. Why are so many adults interested in a kids' game?
"Anybody can kick a big red ball," said 27-year-old Boisean David Leaman, who created Gameday with his brother, Eric, 25. "You don't have to be good at catching the ball. You don't have to be good at running."
"It's totally a team effort," he said. "It's co-ed and low-key. You can't take it too seriously."
Boise will host a regional kickball tournament in August. Players will travel from Washington, Oregon and Utah, Eric Leaman said. Travel? Out of state? To play kickball?
"Road trip," said Eric Leaman. "And you meet other people."
The Leamans launched Gameday a year ago and hope to reach 2,000 active participants by the end of their second year in business. The cost to players ranges from $35 to $65, depending on the game. The venues are parks and other facilities in Boise, Meridian and Garden City.
Participants are encouraged to dress up in suggested themes - '80s, pirate, superhero - for bowling, dodgeball and cornhole.
IT'S ALL ABOUT FUN
"It makes you feel young again," said 36-year-old Boise mom Bunny Malmin, who sported pigtails, hunting camouflage and a target on her chest for a redneck-themed cornhole game at Payette Brewing Company. Her husband, Robert, wore a T-shirt that read: "Will sell wife for NASCAR tickets."
During a one-day dodgeball tournament in early December, a team led by C.J. Watson wore fake mustaches while taking first among 13 teams. The 'staches may have distracted the competition.
"If anything, it made us look less serious or good," said Watson, director of ministry at the College of Idaho.
The Leaman brothers grew up in Boise, running and playing baseball. Eric gave up soccer in high school to focus on baseball.
"It was my life," he said. He played centerfield at a junior college in Redding, Calif., before deciding he wanted to do more with his life. He earned a bachelor's degree in cell biology with a minor in economics from Seattle Pacific University - where he played intramural softball, flag football, floor hockey and men's softball. He took a job at Underdog Sports Leagues Seattle - which touts "low-key leisure league fun" for people 21 and older. He worked there for 3 1/2 years, overseeing equipment and day-to-day operations.
David Leaman, who earned a degree in entrepreneur management from Boise State University, moved to Seattle. He worked at Underdog briefly, then landed a job in digital marketing.
The brothers liked the for-profit sports league concept and decided to try launching a similar business. Though their hometown didn't have as many single professionals between 21 and 35 as the Seattle area - the demographic deemed most likely to participate - they chose to come back to Boise.
MINISTERS OF MERRIMENT
They used about $4,000 in savings to launch the league. They bought equipment, rented fields and opened an office in "The Greenhouse" business incubator on Idaho Street Downtown. To drum up their first participants, Eric went door-to-door with fliers. He started with businesses near the fields where games would be played.
Both brothers are facilitators, or "ministers of merriment," at the events. They set things up, start the games, run the clocks and award prizes.
David's digital marketing job, which he continues to do, helped keep the new venture afloat in its first year. The business was in the red until January - when Eric got his first paycheck.
"I can see a light at the end of the tunnel," he said, raising his hands in triumph.
Gameday is focusing primarily on alternative sports/games - Capture the Flag, anyone? - or twists on old favorites. They run bowling leagues with themed nights at Big Al's in Meridian.
They added the game cornhole a few weeks ago, after deciding it might work in the right venue, like the Payette Brewing Co. brew pub and The Silly Birch bar.
So far it's proven to be mutually beneficial, with about 40 people turning out to play evening cornhole, according to Payette Brewing marketing director Sheila Francis.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413