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Thinking Outside the Bubble

November 18, 2020
Students face off on the knocker soccer field, all wearing knockerball bubbles over their heads and upper bodies.
Players face off on the knocker soccer field.

Knocker Soccer Allows Students to Safely Enjoy Team Play Mid-Pandemic

When York College made the decision to return to in-person classes during the Fall 2020 semester, it was clear that doing so would require some major changes to student life. One of the areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was campus recreation, including intramural sports. 

Meeting a New Challenge

With social distancing and mask-wearing protocols in place campus-wide, most of the usual recreational athletic activities were canceled for the semester. That meant no intramural basketball, no flag football, no volleyball — nothing that requires players to move within six feet of one another. While new competitions were created for fantasy football, air hockey, table tennis, and other no-contact games, something was still missing. That’s when the campus recreation team discovered a new sport: knocker soccer.

“We wanted to provide safe and fun activities for our participants, while following all of the guidelines for our campus community during this COVID era,” explains Cody Seachrist, Assistant Director of Campus Recreation - Competitive Sports. “Knocker soccer...allowed us to compete in a team sport environment during these difficult times, which was awesome to be able to provide.”

“Laughter, Excitement, and Intrigue.”

Knocker soccer is played between two teams of four players each, with the standard soccer mission of kicking a ball into a goal — with one big difference. All players take the field while wearing a “knockerball,” a large, inflatable plastic bubble that covers the wearer’s head and upper body. The result is a game that involves running, dribbling, kicking, the occasional stumble, and plenty of bouncing!

When the idea was first promoted, students reacted with “laughter, excitement, and intrigue,” says Director of Campus Recreation Rachael Finley.

“It definitely got people’s attention,” adds Seachrist. “For those who play in intramurals every semester, it was something entirely new.”

As with all intramurals, sign-ups were set up using the YCP Rec app (available via Google Play and the App Store) and IMLeagues.com, and during the fall semester, a total of 28 teams joined York College’s first knocker soccer league.

Keeping It Safe

While wearing the knockerballs already ensures that players are separated by an impermeable plastic barrier, organizers knew they couldn’t be lax on safety during a pandemic. “Our intramural staff (all YCP students) do an excellent job prioritizing safety in our programs, and this is just another example of that,” says Finley. 

Knocker soccer games take place on the turf field outside the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center, which is equipped with a hose for the neighboring steeplechase course. This access to running water allows staff the opportunity to disinfect knockerballs with soap and water after every use. Once they’re scrubbed clean, they are dried using high-powered leaf blowers before returning to gameplay.

Before each game, supervisors also check every participant’s temperature and verify that they have received approval to be on-campus that day from the College’s COVID symptom tracker survey. 

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An Unexpected Hit

Knocker soccer’s impact around campus has come as a pleasant surprise, with dozens of student participants taking part and fans frequently turning out to watch games from the sidelines.

“We knew that participants wanted to be able to play team sports,” says Seachrist, “but due to being mid-pandemic, it was something that was going to be limited. We hoped that knocker soccer could provide that outlet for our students, and it became more popular than I imagined.” 

Many students have reached out to Campus Recreation staff to request that knocker soccer stay long-term, even after the COVID-19 crisis ends. Seachrist doesn’t foresee that being a problem. In fact, the knockerballs may see even more use in future semesters.

“We will definitely make sure that this sport is included in our programming...We will also be working on modifications to allow other sports and games to use the knockerballs, too.”