JEFFERSON PARK — Two Far Northwest Side dodgeball players are part of the U.S. squad at the 2022 World Dodgeball Championships starting this weekend.
Head coach Brett Furlong, of Jefferson Park, and captain Niko Nodal, of Norwood Park, will lead the men’s USA Dodgeball national team Sunday through Sept. 4 at the competition in Edmonton in Canada. The two also play for Chicago Task Force, a traveling club team from Chicago that plays for the USA Dodgeball Premier Tour.
The championships are being held for the first time since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic halted many major sports competitions and gatherings. More than 90 teams will compete, representing more than 25 countries split into six divisions across two disciplines: foam and cloth dodgeball, according to the event website.
Furlong said there will be more teams to play against in this year’s championships, but he and Nodal are excited to represent Chicago amongst a slew of talented national players.
“We’re extremely proud to be from Chicago and taking this to the world stage,” Furlong said. “I know we carry a lot of the dodgeball community from Chicago with us. They’ll be rooting for us and cheering for us and watching, and we don’t want to let them down.”
More teams playing in this year’s championships means Furlong and Nodal have had to adjust how they prep for the competition.
“It’s gonna be a big learning experience with all these new countries coming in,” Furlong said. “We’re usually pretty familiar with most countries, but there’s … a lot of new players and styles that we’re going to have to learn and adapt to.”
The team’s time at the championships will be spent in dodgeball matches, practice sessions, watching other teams play, sharing meals and recovering between matches, Nodal said.
“It’s a lot of throwing, a lot of running up and down the court and all the players on this team have put in months of training, cardio, weights, whatever it is, to make sure we’re in the best shape that we can be to be playing for a week straight,” Nodal said.
Furlong and Nodal have played recreational and competitive dodgeball locally, nationally and internationally.
Furlong has been playing dodgeball for more than 20 years and scouted for the national team before becoming head coach this year. Nodal began playing dodgeball recreationally at DePaul University in 2012 and continued in the sport competitively.
The World Dodgeball Championships is the sport’s top competition, Nodal said, meaning he and Furlong are gearing up for a career highlight for many players. This is Furlong’s third trip to the championships, having coached for the national team two previous times.
Nodal’s journey to the world championships has been three years in the making.
Nodal had surgery in 2019 to repair a torn ligament in the shoulder he uses to throw tosses, a dodgeball technique which requires frequent use of the arm and shoulder. The surgery meant a year of recovery time, he said.
Then the pandemic hit, putting the sport and the World Dodgeball Championships on hold even longer.
“This past year has been the first time I’ve really dedicated other aspects of my life to improving and being good enough to be on this team,” Nodal said. “You can play at other levels around the country, without as much dedication, but getting onto this team definitely requires a long period of dedication and, and all the way up through the tournaments of the end of this year.”
Furlong said he’s optimistic about their team’s chances at the championships and hopes to win gold.
“The challenge has never been larger, and that’s fuel we need to keep getting better and progressing the sport,” Furlong said. “We hope to show that we are still one the best teams in the World and put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: