Gaga Pit

Ashlyn Vance, left, and Kaelyn Kath, Girl Scouts with Troop 4651, work on constructing a gaga pit at Weigent Park on Friday afternoon. The gaga pit, a hexagonal structure built with money earned from cookie sales, is used to play a variation on dodgeball.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune

Girl Scout Troop 4651 anticipates kids will go gaga for the newest trend in playground games.

Gaga ball, which originated in 1970s Israel, has experienced a stateside resurgence, and on Friday a troop of five ambitious 11-year-olds brought the game to Weigent Park, assembling and staining a 30-foot hexagonal pen using wood and brackets purchased with their cookie sale earnings.

The troop, composed of sixth-graders Greta Griffith, Kaelyn Kath, Ashlyn Vance, Isabella Helfrich and Josie Erickson, fell in love with the game last summer at Girl Scout camp, and decided to build La Crosse’s first gaga pit as their Bronze Award project, the highest achievement available to a Junior Girl Scout.

“We liked it at camp, and we thought other people would like it, too,” Griffith said.

“There’s not anything like it here,” agreed troop leader Rachael Kaiser. “(At camp) they’ll play for hours. It’s good exercise — anyone can play. “

Derived from the Hebrew term that translates to “touch-touch,” the game is essentially dodge ball played in an enclosure, or pit. Also known as Israeli dodgeball, octo-ball and panda ball, gaga ball was first played in Jewish summer camps and brought to U.S. by Israeli camp counselors. The goal of the game is to eliminate players by hitting them below the waist with a kickball while avoiding being hit yourself. The game starts with one person tossing up the ball, with the players yelling “ga” on the first and second bounces before the ball is in play. The ball must be struck with hands only, volleyball style, with no carrying or throwing allowed.

The Scouts began planning the gaga pit project in August, dedicating the 20 hours required for the Bronze Award to research, construction and gaining approval for a location. Over $1,100 dollars was invested in materials, and while the drilling and sanding process was time consuming — “It took us four hours to get three boards done,” Griffith said — approaching the Weigent Hogan Neighborhood Association, followed by the La Crosse Board of Park Commissioners last week, proved the most intimidating.

“Getting up in front of them was the hardest because we watched other people be denied,” Griffith said of the parks board.

“They asked a lot of questions,” Kath added. “Some of them were asking if they could play and when it would be ready.”

With the help of parents and siblings, the girls expected to finish installing the pit, along with a rule board for those new to the game, by late Friday afternoon, before celebrating their hard work with pizza and a round of gaga.

“I’m really proud of them,” Kaiser said. “It’s fun to see them do things people thought were too hard — I had people say, ‘They can’t use power tools; they’re 11-year-old girls.’ Well, if you teach them they can do anything. That’s the power of Girl Scouts.”

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Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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