Actually, I guess it’s the other way around. Whirlyball has been a Chicago staple for years and years, right here in front of me, but for some reason–and I’ll be kicking myself over it for a long time to come–I had never tried it…until this week.
(Disclosure: the fine folks at Whirlyball invited me and some friends in for some complimentary play. I was not compensated for this post.)
Whirlyball, which is a combination of lacrosse, basketball, hockey, and bumper cars, is a fast-paced team game and SO MUCH FUN. Players are buckled into “WhirlyBugs” with a plastic scoop in hand. The idea is to get a whiffle ball through the net to score points. There are penalties, too, like for “slashing” (hitting an opponent’s scoop while trying to get the ball), picking up the ball with your hands, or directly hitting someone from behind.
The first thing you have to learn when you get ready to play Whirlyball is that WhirlyBugs are NOT bumper cars. They are much faster and more responsive than bumper cars. WhirlyBugs have 360-degree steering via a single drive wheel in front, and only one pedal (the accelerator); there is no brake.
The second thing you have to learn is how to scoop up that wiffle ball. It’s much harder than you’d think.
In fact, the whole game is harder than you think, but you’re so busy laughing and screaming that it doesn’t even matter. Wait though; let me back up for a minute.
I brought some super-fun friends with me for the experience: Tracey, Samantha, and Natasha. There may have been a little trash talking ahead of time, but it was all in the spirit of fun and friendship. Yeah. That’s it.
After lots of excited Facebook messages between the four of us and the creation of a hashtag for the event (#WhirlyGirlies), the day finally arrived. I put on my game face and left for the Whirlyball location in Lombard.
Typically the game is played with five people on each team, but it was two-on-two in our case (an ideal experience for first-timers!). We were debriefed by the manager and a couple of other employees before our referee, Steve, took us onto the court to explain the rules. That poor guy, trying to explain the rules of this potentially dangerous game to four extremely extroverted ladies who were over the top excited about being out for the evening together. Steve, who I’m sure went home that night wondering what he did at work to get the short end of the stick on the “dealing with those crazy women” thing at work, made it through just fine, and we all prepared to play. It was Samantha and me against Tracey and Natasha, and we jumped right in after taking a pre-game picture.
It’s no easy feat to steer with one hand and try to scoop up a ball with the other, all while trying to prepare yourself to get slammed into another WhirlyBug or worse, the wall. It IS, however, hilarious. Did I mention that you also have to try and hear the referee, who is in a box above the court with a microphone, reminding you of the rules while calling the game (and sometimes playfully ridiculing everyone below)?
I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed (or screamed) so hard. We had an amazing time. I’m pretty sure Steve the referee had a great time too, and I know he appreciated how we yelled back at him, especially that one time I begged him to give me permission to slash Tracey (he wouldn’t). He DID, however, allow us to play one final five minute game with “street rules” (ahem no rules). He probably will not forget us anytime soon.
Whirlyball also has locations in Chicago and Vernon Hills, by the way. They operate mostly under a reservation system (the Lombard location has two courts), but they’ll take walk-ins if there is space available. The cost is $15 per person per half hour, and court time can be reserved with a minimum of four people.
While at Whirlyball you can enjoy a full bar and a menu including what I would call “delicious upscale bar food”. We tried the wings and the pretzel bites with Goose Island 312 beer cheese, and they were amazing. The new menu also includes other great items like flatbreads, sandwiches, and truffle fries.
At the end of the evening we were exhausted, exhilarated, and maybe a little sore in the abs from all the laughing (and okay, twisting around to get that blasted whiffle ball). I honestly could have played for another two hours but the evening league guys arrived and we had to give up the court. We’re already talking about returning and bringing more friends with us, and I know that my kids would love it too.
But first, I have to get my voice back.
So much fun, you guys. If you live in the Chicago area, GO TRY IT.