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What in the Whirl?

Strap yourself in, grab your scoop and get ready
to play a game of WhirlyBall™.

It’s not as fast as jai-alai or as dangerous as racing at Indianapolis or as pre­cise as professional bas­ket­ball. But grown men and women are going wacky over a game billed as a combination of all three. Every day they go, plunking down $12.50 for an hour, throwing off suit coats, rolling up their sleeves, switching pinstripes for sweat pants. They strap themselves in WhirlyBug™ cars and, wielding plastic scoops, whiz around a glass-walled court attempting, rather comically most of the time, to get a wiffle ball through a circular goal 15 inches in diameter.

But WhirlyBall™ enthusiasts, from doctors to business executives to computer sales people, will tell you it’s not as easy as it looks—nor as childish as it sounds. “Everybody out there for the first time looks like a child again”. They forget their motor skills. They look discombobulated and disoriented. It takes a certain amount of dexterity and coordination to catch a plastic ball the size of a soft­ball in a plastic scoop while traveling in a brakeless vehicle steered by a crank between the legs.

Michael Adler, president of Adler Group, is WhirlyBall’s™ biggest fan. He gets in a quick game during lunch all the time. He brings other executives from the com­pany or plays with friends. He’s an addict. Tuesday night Alder played with co-workers and friends, among them a plastic surgeon who claims the game is a great stress reliever. “It’s fast. It’s exciting. You have a great time,” said Dr. Lance Raifee, 34. “It’s like basketball or hockey”. “It’s a lot of fun, and it relieves tension. For the hour you’re playing, you think of nothing else.”

Adler said he likes WhirlyBall™ because it’s for everyone. “WhirlyBall™ is a great equalizer. It’s a competitive game that anybody can play. I’ve played with my wife and son, and they both love it,” he said. “Kids might like it, but I think this is great for adults. I think it’s more of a sport than a game,” said Alina Velez, 25, an advertising sales representative who is organizing a team of co-workers to join a WhirlyBall™ league. “You can really work up a sweat out there.”

WhirlyBall™ was invented in 1962 in a Murray, Utah, brake shop owned by Stan Mangum. Stan’s son Kim Mangum provided the inspiration. “I was riding a golf cart we used at the shop, and I had a stick in my hand,” said Kim Mangum. “There was a tin can lying on the floor. I reached down and hit the can with the stick. My father said, 'That’s it. We’ll build a machine and play hockey with it.'” the hockey idea was thrown out almost immediately and replaced with a different concept. “With the hockey it was too much on the floor,” Mangum said. “It didn’t work very well.” The Mangums experimented with different types of vehicles—hydraulic, gas-powered and battery powered. They finally settled on their own version of a car called the WhirlyBug™, which runs on a low-voltage, electrified floor and has a stick steering mechanism, which frees up one hand to hold the WhirlyBall™ scoop.

There are 34 WhirlyBall™ courts operating in the United States and Canada. Richard Porhola opened the WhirlyBall™ center in Mount Clemens, Michigan in 1985. In that time, the game has steadily gained in popularity, he said. “It’s popular mostly with people between 25 and 40. Most of them rent a court for parties. We get a lot of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford parties,” Porhola said. “I think WhirlyBall™ will always be popular. Bumper cars have been around forever and they have always kept their popularity.”

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