The nerds are getting their revenge, even if it’s not so obvious. Parents, who spent their youth hiding behind the bleachers or the cafeteria ladies as they walked through the gymnasium, might not realize that dodgeball’s big comeback is actually good news. Before you flash back to the smack of a rubber ball to the face, take a look at the new dodgeball, which isn’t really dodgeball at all. It’s called gaga and it’s referred to as the “kinder, gentler dodgeball.”
Gaga hails from Israel and is sweeping the United States. Now, it’s come to New Jersey, thanks to Glen Rock moms, Leslie Kossar Schraer and Pamela Diamond.
In September 2016, these co-owners opened The Gagasphere in Waldwick. Here, children (and adults!) can come and play gaga in a traditional octagonal pit with a soft foam ball. Unlike in dodgeball, players volley the ball using an open hand and employ skills like dodging, striking, running and jumping while trying to strike opponents with the ball below the knees. Whoever is left standing is the winner. A fast-moving game, a gaga match usually lasts five to eight minutes before everyone gets back into the pit and starts over.
“Players get a nice workout,” says Schraer. “It doesn’t get boring.” Schraer, a marketing consultant, and Diamond, a pediatric physical therapist, got to talking about this idea when Diamond’s son wanted a gaga birthday party and there were no options nearby. He had learned about the game at camp and was excited to share it with his friends, says Diamond. The two moms saw a void and figured they could fill it.
Birthday parties are now one of the strongest parts of their business. The typical gaga birthday at The Gagasphere includes two pros, who oversee the game like referees and provide instruction to guests. Then, the partygoers play the game for one hour. This includes the traditional rules and some variations, such as adding extra balls or playing as teams instead of as individuals.
A party with 15 children, pizza, water, a shirt for the birthday boy or girl, paper goods and exclusive use of the space costs $499. For an extra fee, parents can opt for add-ons, such as disco gaga and glow-in-the-dark gaga. Parents, who want to leave the party planning all together in the hands of The Gagasphere, can pay a total of $599 for the addition of a themed cake and management of the guest list and evites.
There’s reassurance in the ownership. “We’re thinking about it like moms would think about it,” says Diamond.
Anyone looking for an extracurricular activity, says Schraer, might consider gaga. There is an after-school program that costs $250 for eight sessions at The Gagasphere. And parents will appreciate the gaga camps available for school holidays, including Thanksgiving. While the birthday parties and camps are generally for kids ages 5 to 12, people of all ages can play at The Gagasphere. You can rent a private pit for one hour for six or more people. This includes one pro, who will explain the rules and serve as a referee. Teens and a moms’ club are coming to play and companies have been researching the place for team-building, says Schraer. There are also open pit times on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but you must call ahead to schedule.
No one is left out at The Gagasphere, say the owners. In fact, the GagaStrong courses are for kids with special needs (social, physical and developmental). Licensed professionals, including physical education teachers and physical and occupational therapists, lead these programs and they aim to get everyone playing gaga. “Gaga is appealing to kids because it’s easy to learn, and unlike many playground sports, gaga is not dominated by children with natural athletic ability,” according to the website. “GagaStrong classes will incorporate Gaga, which is a fun, fitness-related activity for your child without the high-stakes pressure of team sports.”
Schraer, who is the mom of one son, 13, and one daughter, 8, and Diamond, who is mom to two sons, 11 and 6, and one daughter, 8, say they gave much thought to why they were building this business. They boiled it down to a few benefits to playing. “It’s a great game, and it can be used to improve social skills, gross motor skills, and more,” they say. “It’s inclusive, anyone can play.”