“I’ve only been good at three things—making friends, playing sports and having fun,” says Bob Downing. The result: his Delaware Sports League, which turns 10 this month.
From a kickball tournament of 100 players in Wilmington’s Rockford Park, the league has grown to include 7,500 members, mostly age 21 to 35, who play kickball (64 teams), dodgeball, Wiffle Ball and flag football.
Downing (aka Bobby D.) says the league is based on one thing: relationships. Sports are one draw, but so are opportunities to socialize after games. Many bars and restaurants sponsor the league, offering members food and drink specials. “There are people who met in DSL who are getting married,” says Downing.
Downing hatched the idea after participating in an informal Ultimate Frisbee game: “People consciously made you feel welcome,” he says. “Delaware can be very cliquey, especially to outsiders.”
Courtesy of Charles Lockerman
Sports leagues were cropping up in different places at the time. His kickball tourney grew quickly through word of mouth to more than 350 players. “My goal was to always have DSL become a league,” says Downing.
Chris Connelly, 32, of Wilmington, has been playing kickball and dodgeball since he joined DSL in 2008. “My overall experience has been pretty fantastic,” Connelly says. “When I first joined, I was new to the area, so it helped me get to know the many people I’ve grown close to.”
This spring the league has seen its largest turnout ever. “We are experiencing a rebirth,” says Downing. “In the early days we were growing so fast, we didn’t have the proper systems in place. I have expectations and a vision for the league, and I am going to be a much more attentive owner,” says Downing.