Kayson Spendlove’s best birthday, ever, was shaping up to be a critical failure.
He had transported some 20 or so friends, employees and family members from Orem, Utah, to Las Vegas recently for the sole purpose of playing dodgeball. It was his 21st birthday present to himself. He brought his dodgeball team, Hang Time, along with his wife, parents, grandparents, cousins, siblings, friends and their friends. The plan was to celebrate on a Friday night and then turn around Saturday morning and compete in the regional qualifiers for a spot in the Ultimate Dodgeball Championship, to be held at Sky Zone Trampoline Park Saturday and Sunday.
The Friday night celebration was a success; the Saturday morning qualifiers seemed like a disaster in the making. Only eight teams showed up. By official rules, 10 teams were required to play in the qualifier.
Moments before the official start time, tension was building. If only eight teams played, the competition would be for bragging rights, said Sky Zone assistant manager Sara Stewart. No teams could advance to the finals.
“I think the ones who drove from out of town will be a little disappointed,” she said.
That was an understatement. This was Spendlove’s shot at dodgeball fame and a $20,000 grand prize. He didn’t drive nearly 400 miles just to lose that chance. He ran around Sky Zone’s lobby, trying to work some dodgeball magic.
“Dad, are you ready? You’re playing today,” he told his father, Cody, 46.
A team needed a minimum of five players. If he enlisted his grandparents and the rest of his entourage, Kayson Spendlove could mathematically form three additional teams.
“It’s a long drive. We’re just trying to get teams in there so we don’t forfeit this,” said Kayson Spendlove, who manages a Hang Time trampoline gym in Orem.
Nothing in the rulebook prevented Spendlove from doing this. All they needed were bodies. Bodies to bounce on the trampolines and dodge flying rubber balls. Bodies to serve as meat shields, as it were, to absorb blows and help Spendlove reach his goal: the finals.
Now, keep in mind, we’re talking about Spendlove’s parents and grandparents, two pairs of dodgeball novices over 40. They would have to take the risk that comes with bouncing on trampolines and getting hit with projectiles. Dodgeballers at Sky Zone must sign medical waivers. Basically, if you get injured while playing, you assume fault.
“Once I played dodgeball, I tore up my shoulder,” Cody Spendlove said. “I couldn’t use it for a few days.”
Kayson Spendlove was willing to risk that. He was willing to sacrifice his family for his dream.
But, you have to understand, Kayson’s not your typical guy. He loves dodgeball and he loves his family. Combining the two is the ultimate win for him. That’s why he dragged them to Vegas for a dodgeball competition disguised as a birthday celebration.
“Who on Earth would invite their grandma and grandpa on his 21st birthday?” asked Kayson’s grandmother, who gave “Crazy Grandma” as her name.
Some people go out and get drunk on their 21st birthdays.
Kayson “brings the family to play dodgeball,” Cody Spendlove said of his son.
No one in the Spendlove group seemed to mind the sudden change from spectator to dodgeballer. In fact, they relished it. They ended up forming two additional teams — the Meat Shields and the Autistic Avengers — to bring the total number up to official qualifier standards.
The Meat Shields were aptly named because they were basically meat that was going to be tenderized, said Cody Spendlove. The Autistic Avengers earned their name “because I’m autistic and I love the Avengers,” said team captain and family friend Fez Baker, 20.
Once the qualifiers started, both teams held their own, for a while. One member of the Meat Shields shed some blood after taking a ball in the face.
The Autistic Avengers, four women and one man having the time of his life, showed some expert skill by winning a round with two sequential groin shots to their opponents.
Alas, in the end, it wasn’t enough to help them advance. Hang Time, Kayson’s team, while winning the Las Vegas qualifying event, was not picked as a finalist for the championship based on its score for the rankings.
Eight teams, from as far away as Toronto, will compete in the tournament this weekend. Round robin play begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sky Zone Las Vegas, 7440 Dean Martin Drive. Admission for spectators is free.