Rolfball, a combination of volleyball, soccer and tennis created in the late 70s by a senior in college, is taking to the tennis courts of the Fargo Moorhead community, one game at a time. Thuy Tran, graphic designer at Crary Industries, co-founded the FM Rolfball League with her husband, Eric Hansen, co-owner of Advanced Seamless Gutters. Tran and Hansen, along with other friends and players share how to play the game, a few fun memories from the courts, and why you should come play too.
KIM ROHLFING’S ROLFBALL CREATION STORY
I was a senior at Drury College in Missouri in 1978, a health and physical education major. We had an assignment to make an activity that combined three or more sports, so I came up with rolfball which combines volleyball, handball and dodgeball—you could throw more in there like soccer, too.
My first teaching job was at Lee Summit High School in Lee Summit, MO, in 1981, teaching health and PE. I started using rolfball as a filler time between units. I introduced it to my students and they seemed to really like it and picked up on it quickly. After a couple years it became a part of the PE curriculum for schools in the Lee Summit District.
In addition to the rules made by the original creator of rolfball, the FM league decided to raise the stakes of the game by implementing a “no hands” rule. Similar to soccer, any part of the body can be used to hit or kick the ball over the net, just no hands or arms.
Q&A with The FM Rolfball League Founders
What is rolfball and how do you play?
Tran: Rolfball is a game that you play on a full size tennis court using a kickball. The game could be scaled up or down based on the numbers of players on the court.
According to the Official FM Rolfball Rules, each team is allowed three hits and on the third hit, the ball must go over the net and land within the opposing side’s boundaries. Games go to 15 points, with a team needing to win by two points.
Hansen: You can play with up to as many people as you want, you can even just play one-on-one. The one-on-one is a good workout, it really gets you sweating and you feel like you just did some solid cardio.
Tran: It plays into each player’s skills and abilities, making it a super fun game for everyone regardless of athleticism level, which is why Kim Rohlfing created it at Drury College in 1978.
Hansen: I hope he got an A on that assignment, because this is like five games in one.
What are the rules of the game?
A player cannot hit the ball twice in a row, and a particularly tricky rule to follow is that the ball must bounce exactly once before a player can hit it. Just as soccer is played, any part of the body but the hands and arms can be used to hit the ball.
Tran: We have local rules, too. Something we started as a challenge is the no hands rule.
Everyone was saying they wanted to play the game on hardcore mode— eventually we all just played with our legs, no hands.
Johnny Stevenson, friend of Hansen and Tran, one of the first rolfball players in Fargo: We played at a wedding in the Twin Cities once where the other team was playing with just their feet. We played with our hands and still got whooped by the others. We thought, alright we’ve got to up our game, we can’t take another embarrassing loss like that.
Hansen: We also instituted a new rule for a roundhouse kick. When a spinning roundhouse kick is used while a ball is in play and the opposite team is unable to return the ball, the opposite team’s score resets to zero. I think I got the first roundhouse kick.
Tran: If you end up getting more roundhouse kicks, you owe the winning team ice cream. Last summer it seemed like we had a lot of roundhouse attempts. Because of that, we had a lot of ice cream after games.
When did you guys start playing?
Tran: We learned of this game when my husband and I, and some of our other friends, were in Denver, CO. A friend of ours, Jake Murrary, who is an American Ninja Warrior, showed us the game. We brought it back to Fargo five or six years ago, and showed it to our friend Shane and he immediately fell in love. He’s been a big part of this, he’s always organizing events, posting about games and stuff like that.
Stevenson: I first played in Denver with them, also. That was almost six years ago.
Tran and Hansen, left, first played rolfball more than six years ago after being introduced to it by a friend in Denver, Colorado. The pair brought the sport back to the FM area and started the league.
A new rule that the league made last year states that if someone attempts a roundhouse kick and the opposite team can’t return the ball, their score goes back to zero. The losing team also then owes the winning team ice cream after the game is done.
Who can play?
Tran: It’s mainly young adults who play now, but anyone can play. I feel like I wasn’t very active in high school or anything, but I play this. And some people are skateboarders, rock climbers, Ninja Warriors and more. Rohlfing started this game to be inclusive to everyone, and that’s what I want to do, which is why I made the Facebook page so people can just come out.
Rohlfing: I wanted to have something that would involve all abilities levels. You could be a great volleyball player or a poor volleyball player and you’ll still have success to some degree with the game. I’ll have prior students of mine who are now in their 40s and 50s who will come up to me and say, “hey, you know I’m still playing rolfball!”
How do people get involved?
Tran: To get involved, you just have to follow the Facebook group, @fm_rolfball_ league_official. You show up when someone posts, “hey, I’m gonna be at Island Park at 6:30, come play.” It’s similar to a running league, someone will say, “I’m going to go run a route, anyone want to join me?” And people just jump in.
Hansen: Some people will be walking by the courts, get curious and come play with us. There was a guy on a run once who stopped and asked, ‘what are you guys doing?’ Then he just came onto the court and joined us.
Shane McGrath, friend of Hansen and Tran, rolfball player: This is hardly an official league yet, but that’s what we’re striving for with our Facebook and Instagram page. We just want the word to get out about this fun game.
The game of rolfball, humbly created as a college assignment, has gone on to various leagues across the country and globe.
“I had a foreign exchange student from Turkey and a while back I got a note from her saying she introduced it to her students in Turkey,” Rohlfing said. “Now, I can’t say how successful it’s been or how far it’s gone, but I know it’s gone to at least Turkey!”
Next time you’re looking for an activity for the whole family or an excuse to get out of the house, grab a kickball and head to a local tennis court to try out rolfball!
The next organized event hosted by the league is July 29th. Follow their social media for information about upcoming events and updates.