A Hot Take on Dodgeball

In the 2004 movie “Dodgeball,” a rag-tag group of non-athletes and their gym-owning leader try to learn the ins and outs of the playground sport dodgeball. To do so, they hire legendary (and fictional) dodgeball coach Patches O’Houlihan, played by Hank Azaria (as young Patches) and Rip Torn. The Rip Torn-version of Patches gathers the team together and begins hurling wrenches at them, justifying the really bad idea with a faux sage-like quip: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

Again, that’s a terrible idea. But it could be worse. Just ask the residents of the El Salvador town of Nejapa. Every year, they have a dodgeball-like festival — but instead of using balls (or wrenches), they use fire.

Here’s an animated gif.

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That’s from a 50-second video, here, and if you watch the whole thing, it really does look like a dodgeball match, except an extraordinarily dangerous one. It’s called “Las Bolas De Fuego” — “Balls of Fire.”

Every August 31st (sorry, you missed it this year), townspeople take to the street to commemorate the eruption of a local volcano in 1658, which caused locals to flee the village. Per some interpretations of the event, the volcano’s ire was brought upon the area by its patron saint, San Jeronimo, who hoped to rid the town of the Devil by dousing him with fire; per other tales, San Jeronimo saved the town by stopping the fireballs just short of the church which bears his name. Either way, per local lore, the eruption had something to do with the greatness of the town’s patron saint, making it now cause for celebration.

So, the people of Nejapa celebrate. Per an amateur tourism site dedicated to El Salvador, “balls are made of rags and tied up with wire and sunk into kerosene for a month.” After the soaked rags are ready, things start to heat up (pardon the irresistible pun), as the matches and lighters come out. Then, participants — often dressed up like it’s Halloween, also don oven mitts or other protective gloves, and begin throwing fire at one another. At times, fire throwers target those watching on the sidelines as well — and at everything and anything else. That’s because during Las Bolas De Fuego, anything goes; per ABC News Australia (which has the date of the eruption wrong), there are no rules. For example, as seen below, hand-to-hand fire combat breaks out, too.

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(Although in this case, the second guy missed.)

As of the 2015 festivities, “few serious injuries have been reported,” per ABC News Australia, although there are even fewer details about those injuries. Rest assured that there are many, though, and please, don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Bonus fact: There actually is a “National Dodgeball League,” with an official website and barely active Twitter account. The action isn’t quite as furious as the movie makes it out to be, though; here’s a video of the 2009 championship between the Chicago Vendetta and the San Diego Crossfire, if you’d like to witness it yourself. (Who won? Well, I won’t ruin the ending.)

From the Archives: The Explosive Apertif: Where Molotov cocktails come from.

Related: A home fire extinguisher. At $20, it’s probably a good thing to have.