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Men and women play juvenile games

  • Story Highlights
  • WAKA Kickball started more than a decade ago by a few friends is now in 33 states
  • The 2009 World Yo-Yo Contest will attract more than 150 adults this year
  • Hundreds of adult soapbox racers will wear costumes to race in Portland, Oregon
  • "Rejuvenile" author Noxon says childhood pastimes are becoming more acceptable
By Stephanie Chen
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(CNN) -- Spongy red balls wait in a queue, separating two teams wired to smack their opponent. Within seconds, the players dip and dive like dolphins until one player stands alone, relishing in victory.

A WAKA Kickball player tries to make it to a base during a recent Florida playoff game.

An adult plays in a dodge ball league organized by the City of Sparks Parks and Recreation in Nevada.

It's the classic game of dodge ball, but these aren't fifth-graders during PE class in Sparks, Nevada.

The childhood sport of dodge ball made a comeback four years ago in this bedroom community among adults in their 20s and 30s -- and even a few players who reached retirement.

Now, hundreds of working professionals, doctors, lawyers and teachers congregate at the local recreation center for a dose of dodge ball on Sunday nights.

"I think a lot of it goes back to trying to stay young," said Tony Pehle, recreation supervisor in Sparks, who started the dodge ball program after being inspired by the 2004 Ben Stiller movie "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."

"They might be adults, but they still like to play and have fun."

Has Peter Pan syndrome come to stay? From playing dodge ball to jumping double Dutch and competing in rock-paper-scissors, adult men and women, from urban nests to rural towns, are reveling in games and activities once thought to be child's play.

The 2009 World Yo-Yo Contest in Orlando, Florida, this weekend (August 13) is all grown up, attracting more than 150 adult competitors, who can showcase dizzying tricks with the flick of a finger. Later in the month, hundreds of adults outfitted in pirate and animal costumes will race their homebuilt vehicles for Oregon's annual Portland Adult Soapbox Derby, a crafty activity that began for youths in the 1930s.

"Once a year, I get to build something for the kid in me," says Jason Hogue, a 41-year-old carpenter, who has participated in the race for eight years. Last year, he constructed a car shaped like a hammerhead shark. "We get to use our creativity and get excited with our friends."

Whether they're done to seek refuge from the daily grind or to provide nostalgia for youthful days -- or they're a product of what some experts say is a generation that can't grow up -- these juvenile pastimes are getting more popular. For example, adult viewership of the Nickelodeon show "SpongeBob SquarePants" swelled by 51 percent from 1999 to 2009, officials say.

The World Adult Kickball Association, one of the largest kickball organizations, has spread its tentacles to 33 states as well a soldier division in Iraq. WAKA Kickball began as a casual game between a few young single friends in their 20s in Washington, D.C. Now, the games appeal to tens of thousands of adults, many of them yuppies wanting a quick escape from the stresses of their first 401(k), mortgage and job.

"I played soccer growing up, and I like competition," says avid kickball player Marlon LeWinter, 28, of New York City. LeWinter, a public relations executive, usually plays the position of center with a bunch of producers, writers and analysts in their late 20s. They named their team Chipwich Nation after they scarfed down the cookies-and-ice cream treat at a bar after a game one night.

"Sometimes when it's [the score] two to one in a kickball came, I get the jitters," he says.

The economic bind also creates a favorable environment for adults to latch onto simple children's games and sports. With players who are trapped in a world of layoffs and job freezes, these adult leagues, contests and tournaments are the equivalent of sandbox time for children. They can make new friends and go for a beer after the game. These activities are also budget-friendly, costing less than $100 to join for several months of play -- much less than a golf club membership.

Since the recession, Duncan Toys, one of the biggest yo-yo manufacturers in the United States, has seen sales spike. A company official noticed many of the adults who purchased yo-yos tried to get the same models they owned as kids.

"Nowadays, everything is taken so seriously that people revert to something like playing with a yo-yo," says Mike McBride, a 34-year-old multimedia designer who picked up the activity shortly after college. McBride, who will compete in the Orlando World Yo-Yo contest, says the activity helps him relieve stress. "There's no pressure."

In 2006, Christopher Noxon, in his book "Rejuvenile," explored why adults fancy childhood pursuits like kickball, cartoons and cupcakes. Beginning with Generation X adults in the 1990s, the group began to shift from the norms of the hierarchal corporate ladder, and the age of marriage began to steadily climb.

Soon, juvenile activities that had been regarded as silly became hip. Quirky became cool, and more organized teams, groups and competitions for playground sports and childlike hobbies emerged.

"Our whole idea of adulthood has changed," says Noxon. "We value flexibility and creativity, and these are things kids are good at. It's brought us back to what we had as children."

But it isn't just the younger generations that clutch leftovers from their youth or become interested in child-like activities. Grandparents in their 70s and 80s still collect roomfuls of model train sets, romanticizing the days when the only way to travel was by choo-choo. Women in their 40s acquire American Girl dolls that stir fond memories of reading the novels during childhood.

Psychology experts say it shouldn't be a surprise that the affinity for childhood hobbies and activities extends across generations. After all, Americans have long had an obsession with youth. To be young is associated with being fun, vibrant and active.

In the Internet age, finding one's inner child has never been easier, with the proliferation of social networks such as Facebook or Web sites like, where users can create groups and meeting times for activities. On the site, groups of adults organize scavenger hunts in Atlanta, Georgia, and action figure discussions in New York City.

"This is a generation of people who are far less homogenous and more niche-oriented," says Judith Sills, a clinical psychologist who works with young adults. "They can bond around their quirky differences. Ten years ago, you couldn't have easily found another kickball player, even if you wanted to play."

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