By April Tisher | Photo by Sincerely Gone Photography
Six years ago, my children and their schoolmates suddenly went gaga for something called gaga ball. The focal point of their recess stories were play-by-plays of that day’s gaga ball winner. At the time, I had no idea what gaga ball was, but this game’s popularity has only grown!
Thomas Cowart, director of construction and maintenance for Alachua County Public Schools, said that the first gaga pit to be installed by the school district was at Camp Crystal in 2007. The game was observed by the previous director at a camp up north, and he thought it would be a hit here. He was right, and it took off from there. To date, 12 elementary schools and two middle schools in the area currently have Gaga pits, in addition to one at Camp Crystal and those at afterschool programs. Although we can thank Alachua County Schools for the local obsession with the installation of gaga pits, it is hardly a new game and it is not native to the area.
Gaga translated literally is Hebrew for “touch, touch.” The game is believed to have originated in Israel in the ‘70s and was brought to the U.S. by Israeli summer camp instructors. At first glance the game looks a little like dodgeball, though not as rough. It is played in an octagonal or hexagonal area called the gaga pit. There is no hitting above the waist and the ball is a softer, smaller version of your standard dodgeball. It is a fast-paced game, and the players get a pretty good workout. It can be played as an individual or team game by players of any skill level or age. It involves running, jumping and striking a single ball with the hands. The winner is the last man standing after all other participants have gotten “out,” which, as in dodgeball, occurs when you are hit by the ball. It does typically need a moderator or referee because the games can get pretty competitive!
Installing an official gaga pit can be costly, anywhere from $500–$5,000 depending on the material, size and shape you are looking for. You can also build your own gaga ball pit, just be sure to use pressure treated lumber. Or you can purchase a kit and plans online. There are portable options available for spaces that cannot serve as a dedicated gaga pit. The floor or ground surface of the pit is usually concrete and needs to be smooth and free of debris. If built properly, a gaga pit can provide hours of fun and exercise for people of all ages for years to come. So, go gaga!
The Official Rules of Gaga
As taken from Gagaballpit.com
- Designate a referee (non-player). The referee is the sole authority during play and is responsible for ensuring fair play and settling disputes.
- The referee begins play only after all players are standing in the gaga court and have indicated that they are ready to start the game. Many require the players to be touching the gaga pit prior to starting the game.
- One player tosses the ball up in the air. Players yell “Ga” on the first bounce and “Ga” again on the second bounce, and the ball is then in play.
- Players hit the ball with their hands only and may not carry or throw the ball — it must be punched or hit with a hand or fist. Only one successive hit is allowed by each player.
- Any player who is touched by the ball below the knees (or waist), either directly or by a rebound off the wall, is “out” and must exit the gaga pit. If the ball contacts the player above the waist, the player is still in.
- If the ball goes out of the gaga pit, the last player to touch the ball is eliminated.
- If a player catches the ball before it bounces, the player who had the last contact with the ball is eliminated.
- Once the player hits the ball, he or she must wait until the ball touches someone else before hitting it again (no double touches). Only one successive hit is allowed by each player, until there are only two players left, then up to three successive touches are allowed by a player.
What do you like about gaga ball?
“It’s a really fun sport and I get to hang out with a lot of new people. [My brother] taught me how to play gaga ball and I forgive him for anything he’s done mean to me.” – Samantha
“When I win.” – Nicholas
“Everybody focuses on soccer and football and golf and stuff, and gaga is a sport that’s right out of the ordinary.” – Nathan
“It’s a fun game that you can play with your classmates during recess.” – Emma
“It’s a fun game and I like the competition.” – Ethan