As a boy, Greg Manley grew up in Oakland California. As a young man Greg invented a sport in New York. That sport? Circle Rules Football. Almost three years ago Greg Manley decided for his senior project at the Experimental Theater Wing of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, he would create a sport as theater. Every sports fan lives for the drama and theatricality of sport. We wear memorabilia, we chant using call and response, we recite famous speeches, we in the end are emotionally connected to our athletes, and teams. However, what happens when "the piece of theater" becomes "a real sport"?
Greg Manley has been figuring this part out since the first Circle Rules Football Game was ever played. What started out with pick up games occasionally, turned into weekly Sunday afternoon pickup games with throngs of people joining in wanting to figure out the new game. And now, Circle Rules Football is a Federation. Since summer of '07 Circle Rules has been played across the country with groups (aspiring leagues) sprouting up in New York, Florida, Oregon, California, Toronto, Puerto Rico, Prague and one year at Burning Man to name a few locations. This past summer Circle Rules crossed the Atlantic as part of IG Fest 2009 (a festival dedicated to new sports) in Bristol, UK, where it won two prestigious awards: "Best in Festival" & "Most Likely to be Played Again." The sport was also part of New York's Fringe Festival, where games included halftime shows with marching bands, live music during games, and drum circles. And you don't even know how the game is played, yet.
The game is played on a circular field (40m diameter), with a circle or the "key" (4-8 diameters) in the middle. Inside the "key" is a goal (2-4 meters wide, 3 meters tall). One team scores by knocking, tapping, heading, or kicking a ball through the goal in one direction, while the other team scores through the other direction. In a normal game no player may touch the ball in the "key" unless he/she is airborne. In a goalie game, goalies are allowed to deflect balls in the "key", as well as, scrum with the other goalie to prevent a deflection. The ball used is a yoga ball (the big bouncy one). At no point can a player hold or sit on the ball, however, the player can dribble the ball anyway he chooses. Sounds confusing I'm sure, but have you ever tried explaining football or baseball in writing? I was confused the first time it was explained to me too. But by the end of the first half (2 halves to a game), not only did it make complete sense but I was hooked.
I grew up playing baseball, basketball, lacrosse, and was captain of my Football team. I play in a co-ed softball league (shout out to my GameCocks), and an all men's flag football league (shout out to my Stratsmen). The level of coordination, athleticism, team work, pride, and endurance needed for all of these sports are not lost in Circle Rules. But, at the same time, the nature and pace of the game suits athletes of all skill levels. So the game is truly enjoyable to all because one doesn't have to be a stud.
The problem the Circle Rules Federation faces now is expansion. In our interview Manley asked, "How does a small organization with limited financial means and playership assert its control over something that is designed to be easy to set up in one's backyard, or in an open field?", before posing a shot at an answer, "all of the accoutrement". The accoutrement entails sponsorship, field permits, night games, fundraisers, parties, and jerseys, along with regional and national tournaments. "What we need are partnerships with leagues or groups around the country to host events, and run leagues under an official license and name." Added Manley, "which would be available for a little amount of money."
But how does that make it more than something that could easily be free? "That's where the theater comes in," here comes Manley's vision, "look at recreational leagues. It is theater, you get jerseys, you get drink specials, you get umpires, and that goes all the way up from amateur to professional. Look at Monday Night Football, they have fireworks coming out of giant helmets." As these words came out of Greg Manley's mouth images of Jerry Jones and his New Cowboy stadium flashed at fast intervals in my head. It all comes down to the theater of it all.
Expansion only goes as far as the level of entertainment on all levels. Sports is entertainment, ergo to create a sport it has to sell. It has to entertain people who play it, practice it, watch it, read about it, write about it, and most importantly it has to entertain people who pay for it. No entertainment yields no payment, no money, no expansion. "Word of mouth via Internet, TV and press can only go so far, we [the federation] need reliable regional commissioners to establish leagues nationwide under the license of the federation."
Membership creates the money to push the theater and level of game play to the next level. People have started to play, and sponsors have shown interest. All that is needed now is a foundation nation wide. Groups and leagues in your area can be found on the Circle Rules Website. If you are in New York, and find yourself in Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon stop by the Long Meadow in Prospect Park (off of the Grand Army Plaza entrance). Games start at 2, watch or try it, you'll like it.
Follow Eugene Michael Santiago on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EugeneMSantiago