A kickball league gets bounced after public-drinking complaints.
The World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA) was conceived five years ago as a way for D.C. grown-ups to have childlike fun. In Adams Morgan, though, the good times have evidently been too grown-up for the neighbors’ liking.
On June 28, the Department of Parks and Recreation yanked the group’s permit to play at Walter C. Pierce Park, a 4-acre space north of Calvert Street between the Duke Ellington Bridge and Adams Mill Road. Nearby residents and the Friends of Walter C. Pierce Park, a nonprofit park-improvement group, had complained that kickball players were drinking in the park, in violation of District law, and urinating behind the bushes.
“Sometimes, there are 80 to 100 people, and one-quarter of the people are drinking,” says Katie Davis, president of the Friends of Walter C. Pierce Park. “They are very public and arrogant about it.”
Players, in turn, claim that the anti-kickball crusade had reached the point where the park’s defenders went out some evenings armed with digital cameras, hoping to snap pictures of players breaking the law. Davis says that if this did happen, it wasn’t any official Friends action, nor has she seen any photos. “Maybe someone was out there. But I don’t need to see pictures—I saw it myself,” she says.
WAKA members, who had been playing in the park since early May, seem stunned to find themselves treated as a public nuisance. The drinkers are “just a small group of people,” says Peter Kearns, the kickball league’s director and president of its Adams Morgan division. Discussing the neighbors’ complaints, players and league representatives repeatedly refer to themselves as “young professionals” who “raise money for charity.”
Davis is unmoved by middle-class credentials. If kickball players can drink in the park, she says, “why can’t the crazy crack addict drink? And why can’t the homeless guy defecate in the playground? Just because they’re young professionals and are a little smoother doesn’t mean it’s OK.”
And despite WAKA’s claim that the drinking is minimal, the league sent members an e-mail alert about park conduct the week the permit was revoked. The message warned that the Friends group was looking for infractions and said that police might start checking a concoction known as “our special kickball power lemonade” (Gatorade and vodka, according to one player who asked that her name not be used). It also issued a word to the not-so-wise about other illegal drinking: “You may think you are cute when you pour beers in the Solo cups, but the 30 Miller Lite bottles in the trash can give you away.”
Adams Morgan resident Anna Ekindjian, who plays for a team called the Ball Busters, says that the public-urination accusations aren’t true and that misbehavior comes “mostly from people wandering through the park.” What’s more, she says, kickball has improved the neighborhood. “The park was dumpy before we started playing there,” she says. “The [$3,400] we paid for our permit made a change.”
“We’ve been cleaning up the park, cleaning up after the dogs,” says Katie Cotney, president of the league’s Rock Creek division.
Davis guffaws at that claim. The park has been “quite nice for years,” she says. “That has nothing to do with the kickballers. They haven’t added anything to the park yet.”
Hoping to salvage their season, the division presidents sent a letter to Parks and Recreation Director Neil Albert, outlining a “zero-tolerance to alcohol consumption during games policy” and promising to designate a representative to help smooth relations with the Friends. Even though the permit has now been revoked, Albert says he’s confident that the department will find a way to let kickball back into the park while satisfying both sides.
If kickball does return, Kearns says, he already has the park rangers’ phone number programmed into his cell phone. “No one’s going to drink in the park ever again,” he vows. CP