August 10, 2005 - Baseball began some 160 years ago on a field in Cooperstown, N.Y., or Hoboken, N.J., depending on which historian you ask. Basketball's origins can be traced to peach baskets affixed to opposing walls of a Springfield, Mass., gym.
One day, Tucson may proclaim itself the birthplace of a game all of its own, a fledgling sport simply known as Aeroball.
A combination of basketball and volleyball played on a trampoline, Aeroball is nearing its second anniversary in its Marana home, 7620 N. Hartman Lane, near the Arizona Pavilions Center.
If you're looking to play Aeroball in a city other than Tucson, however, your search will prove fruitless.
"The first question is, 'Do you have anything closer?'" said Jana Beutler Holland, co-founder and owner of Aeroball, about the routine calls she gets from interested people all over Tucson and abroad. "When I explain to them not only are we the only one like it in Tucson or in Arizona but in the United States, then it's like 'OK, it's worth the drive,' and they'll drive the 30 minutes."
Those who make their way to Aeroball's four courts don't walk away disappointed. Playing on two opposing five-square-foot trampolines enclosed in sturdy mesh netting, players swap turns, taking aim with a squishy, rubber soccer ball at the 12-foot-high vertical goal on the opponent's side. The only thing preventing a player from scoring is the middle net and maybe the jumping ability of an opponent who is trying to block a shot.
Just like in basketball, it's two points for a basket. An additional point is scored if the opposing player fails to rebound and allows a made shot to drop to the ground or, in this case, the trampoline.
Not to be confused with Slamball, a version of five-on-five basketball played on trampolines, Aeroball squares off two players against one another.
"It's an even playing field," said Roland Ramsundar, 32, an employee at Aeroball. "You don't have to be a great athlete."
Although created two years ago, Aeroball is an ever-evolving sport with new moves, techniques and lingo constantly shaping its parameters. Its loyal core of players goes by the name Aer-heads.
Located in a warehouse-type strip mall to accommodate its need for high ceilings, Aeroball's atmosphere is like that of a seventh grade prom, Holland said.
With contemporary hip-hop music reverberating off its walls, which are adorned with inspirational Aeroball terms such as "block," "slam," and "dunk" painted on the fake brick in the campy style of the original Batman television show, seven kids swarmed Aeroball on Aug. 5 for the high flying 11th birthday party of Emily Gin.
"It's fun," said Lorraine Gin, the birthday girl's mother, "plus they get all their energy out. We'll get them home and they'll be calm."
Calm probably from exhaustion. Because competition can be so rigorous, games are limited to five minutes a match.
The Gin family of Marana is a perfect example of the hold Aeroball can take on a person. Emily's birthday is the third family party celebrated at the facility in the past year and a half. For the time being, the sport mostly survives on parties while word slowly gets out to the public.
Several leagues have been attempted, but finding a day of the week that can accommodate everyone has proven difficult. Holland is hopeful that Aeroball someday will be able to house a regular league night, preferably on Wednesdays. Another attempt will be made once school resumes in mid-August.
The key demographic for Aeroball falls between ages 12 and 18 but isn't necessarily reserved for teenagers. Regulars to the sport include older pseudo-athletes from local law firms and IBM. Enthusiasts have ranged from as young as five to as old as 70.
"We originally thought it would be young adults, adults looking to for a way to get some exercise," said Holland. "But really the demographic is 12 to 18, because they can last longer and it's kind of a jazzy place to hang out."
Although the age spectrum varies, it's the kids who helped mold Aeroball, creating the game's moves and naming the sport's terminology. For example, a popular move that has caught on is dubbed the Swiderski after its creator Alex Swiderski, 18, a graduate of Canyon Del Oro High School. His move involves dropping to his seat and releasing a shot (the launch) as he springs back to his feet (the bound).
"It's cool because it's indoors," said Swiderski. "You can do a lot without getting too overheated. It's a good alternative."
After one try, both kids and adults fall addict to the game, all the while unknowingly getting a powerful workout, which is one of the reasons why Holland and her husband Ron created Aeroball.
After hearing about what a great workout rebounding could be, Ron Holland began researching ways other than basketball to apply the concept. That's when he stumbled across Aeroball. He found that consistently jumping on a trampoline could be an incredible workout benefiting the cardiovascular and lymph systems.
Fittingly, the Aeroball apparatus was invented in Springville, Utah, by Don Gordon, a health and fitness innovator like the Hollands. Although Gordon created the 18-foot-high arena, the Hollands have taken it further and built the nation's only center, as far as he knows, dedicated solely to Aeroball.
The biggest concern with any game played on a trampoline is always safety. With a net enclosure, Holland ensures that players are safe. During her two years operating the facility, no major injuries have been reported.
Before anyone crawls in the tiny opening to the Aeroball court, Holland or a staff member takes time to make sure each player properly stretches.
"Safety is our number one priority," Holland said. "In health and fitness we want people to be able to exercise safely and healthfully for the rest of their lives."
While players perform the mandatory stretches, staffers will name each muscle and explain the benefits of stretching it before competition.
Despite the word on Aeroball hitting the streets, Holland doesn't see an expansion to the east side happening any time soon, if ever.
"I think that at this point because our focus is really on fitness and education and new projects," said Holland, "it's kind of like we've come in, we've done it, we've seen it, we've built it. I guess we (Holland and her husband) both operate on this 'if they build it they will come.' In the middle of a field, in the middle of a desert, you put up a trampoline thing and by golly the darn thing has worked. Now it's time to see what else we can build and see who will come."