Gaga Goes Mainstream as Israeli Dodgeball Game Becomes Fad

Game Takes Off Way Beyond Jewish Camps and Day School

The Circle Game: Schoolchildren in Upper Arlington, Ohio, show their skills at Gaga, which means “touch, touch” in Hebrew.
Courtesy Upper Arlington School District
The Circle Game: Schoolchildren in Upper Arlington, Ohio, show their skills at Gaga, which means “touch, touch” in Hebrew.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 15, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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Chris Guertin, president of Sport Resource Group in Minneapolis, Minn., has been manufacturing Gaga pits since 2008. Guertin estimated he has sold 70 pits in 2012, more than double the sales of the previous year. Sport Resource Group’s pits are available in varying sizes and have been sold across the country in schools and camps. Guertin said that, on average, a pit costs $4,000 to $5,000.

Douglass Mann, an associate professor in the health and exercise science department at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., said Gaga helps children develop better skills in lateral movement and backward movement. Mann was first introduced to the game as a counselor at Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, N.J., about seven years ago. He said the game has long been popular in the South Jersey region, but he has recently received an increase in calls and emails from parents, teachers and YMCA leaders from around the country who are interested in learning the game.

“There’s definitely a fitness element to Gaga,” said Melnick, co-owner of South Jersey GaGa. The game helps hand-eye coordination and trains children to be aware, he said, adding, “These kids are running around constantly, working out, moving, running, dodging, jumping. It’s a very physical game for these kids.”

Schmelkin thought one of the reasons Gaga’s popularity has increased was a decrease in the popularity of dodgeball as parents worry about children being hit in the head. In Gaga, the most common injury is “Gaga knuckles,” which can occur when the game is played with a heavier ball, and players hit it with a closed fist rather than an open hand, causing knuckles to scrape the ground.

Greenberg, of the JCC Camps at Medford in N.J., has yet to hear a parent complain about the game’s safety, which has been played at his site since the mid-1990s.

Of Gaga knuckles, he says, “It’s almost like a badge of pride for campers. Kids are proud to go to the nurse’s office with Gaga knuckles; it’s like an initiation.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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