Students of all ages gather to play gaga ball, a sport that combines jumping, dodging and striking. Photo by Jaclyn Soria.

Story by Jaclyn Soria

Lakewood Elementary School’s playground has undergone a $50,000 makeover thanks to funds donated by the Friends of Lakewood and the Lakewood Elementary Expansion Fund. Of all the new enhancements, including basketball courts and playground equipment, the gaga ball pits are the main attraction.

So what is gaga ball anyway? And what makes it so popular among the kids?

Gaga ball is said to have originated in Israel, where the word for “hit” or “touch” is “ga.” The high-energy game is played in an octagonal pit, providing room for many players at one time. The main objective is to get players out by striking them below the knee with a soft foam ball.

The school’s two gaga ball pits, costing $6,000, were paid for entirely by Friends of Lakewood, a group of dads dedicated to enhancing the educational experience of Lakewood Elementary students. Member Chris Prestridge, who coaches the after-school sports program at Lakewood Elementary, says gaga ball has quickly emerged as one of the playground’s most popular activities.

“The students can’t wait to play once they get out here,” Prestridge says. 

If a player is hit below the knee, he or she is out and leaves the pit. If someone holds the ball during the game, the player must also leave the pit. The last player remaining is the champion. Once he or she enjoys a brief celebration, the kids are quick to jump back in the pit for the next round.

Prestridge attributes much of gaga ball’s popularity to its inclusive nature. The fast-paced game can be played by any number of students. In fact, the more players, the better, he said. The game can also be played at any age, encouraging students in different grade levels to join forces in the name of fun and sport.

“It’s really the only game that students in all grades play together,” Prestridge says. 

Sometimes referred to as a gentle dodgeball, the game is less accident-prone than other activities. However, on a recent afternoon, Lakewood Elementary students proudly showed off the “bloody knuckles” they get from brushing the pavement like octagon trophies.

“It’s just kind of my thing,” third-grader Parker Roby says. “I’m rough. This is rough.” 

A Lakewood student plans out his next move as the ball comes to him. Photo by Jaclyn Soria.

Despite the tame nature of the game, kids get a serious workout from the activity and are given a space to celebrate their competitive spirits, Prestridge says.

“It is literally the best game of all time,” Lakewood student Ben McCaffity says. “I can get everybody out.”

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