Going Gaga for Gaga

Outdoor game gets kids playing safely during pandemic

Batting a ball around a Gaga pit, students at Lillian Berg Public School in Vermilion Bay, Ontario, run, jump and twist to evade a ball being launched at them by other players.

People work on assembling a gaga pit
Vermillion Bay Lions were hands on in building a gaga pit for local kids.

The game, called Gaga Ball, is similar to Dodgeball, and is helping them get a physical workout while staying socially distant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

All the fun they’re having is due, in part, to the efforts of the Vermilion Bay Lions Club, which funded and built the octagonal-shaped, fenced-in area where Gaga is played.

Few school days have gone by since the pit was built in late October that Principal Doris St. Jules has not heard students shouting “Ga, Ga, Go” as they bounce the ball three times before putting it in play in the enclosed, outdoor area that has nothing to do with the famed pop singer.

“The students love it,” St. Jules says. “They like to strategize. They like to be tricky. They look at one person and then throw the ball at another. They are so engaged in it.”

Children celebrate inside a gaga pit
The school principal says her students love playing the game in the Lions-built pit. “They are so engaged in it,” she says.

Unlike Dodgeball, Gaga uses a softer ball and has different rules including not being able to hit people with it above the knees.

It is believed that Gaga — the name translates as “touch touch” from Hebrew — started in Israel in the 1950s and spread as camp counselors started playing it at Jewish summer camps in the 1970s.

St. Jules had heard about it from another school and thought it would be a good addition to her school that serves kindergarten through 8th grade.

“It has several benefits,” she says. “It provides physical activity, it’s low-cost, and it’s the type of activity that anyone can take advantage of. All they have to have is a ball.”

Susan Hutchison, secretary of the Vermilion Bay Lions Club, says the club was glad to take on the project.

“It was a great idea because we’re trying to promote kids doing outdoor, physical activities rather than sitting inside at their computers,” she says.

Newly built gaga pit
Gaga Ball is played in an octagonal “pit” and is similar to Dodgeball, but uses a softer ball and has rules that include not hitting anyone above the knees.

Most of materials, except the treated lumber, and the plan needed to create the enclosure, were purchased from a company in the United States.  St. Jules estimates it cost about CA$3,600 (US$2,818), which was funded entirely by the Lions.

The Lions started planning the project in the spring of 2020 and overcame several hurdles including getting approvals for it from the school district and local health department.

The Lions also ensured they had the proper setting for the pit that was constructed on six or seven inches of sand and gravel on the school’s playground.

“We had to make sure the ground was level and flat,” Hutchison says.

They also had to make sure the enclosure was built so it would drain properly after rain or snow, St. Jules adds.

It took a group of about eight to 12 volunteers about a day to build the pit.

Hutchison says it’s the sort of project that other Lions clubs could take on in their own communities.

She often sees children playing in the pit, even using it for games other than Gaga such as playing tag or pretending it is a fort.

“They’re having so much fun with that thing you’d think it was a million-dollar project,” she says.