Vicksburg casino employees find fun, fellowship, competition in kickball league

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Fans packed the bleachers to cheer on their heroes. On the field, the players gave it their all by diving for the ball, running hard, and living and dying with every play.

Was it a weekend tournament? An intense high school or college football rivalry game?

None of the above. It was just another Tuesday night in the Vicksburg Casino Kickball League at Sports Force Parks, when employees from the city’s four casinos let off some competitive steam and build camaraderie through a game many haven’t played since grade school.

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“Thinking about it as a kid, everybody wanted to play. They asked me to play but I’m too old so I told them I would coach,” said Kyle Neal, the coach for Riverwalk Casino’s team. “Everybody wanted to have fun, so it’s a fun deal. It’s the battle of the casinos. Who could turn that down? It’s all about fun.”

The idea for the league was hatched earlier this summer when Bally’s marketing director Jennifer Curro suggested it to player development manager Mickey Fedell. It quickly blossomed from an intramural team to a four-team league involving employees from Bally’s, Riverwalk, WaterView and Ameristar.

“(Curro) plays in her backyard with her daughter and husband and played in high school. She said, ‘Let’s put together a kickball team,’ and I said it sounds like fun,” said Fedell, who also coaches the Bally’s team. “I made some phone calls, got with Sports Force, booked the fields and put together teams and officials and everything. Bally’s sponsored the league.”

While kickball has long been a grade school gym class favorite, it has found a resurgence among adults in recent years. The City of Vicksburg’s Parks and Recreation Department sponsors an adult league that begins its season in September.

“I’ve played two times as an adult and that’s been probably 10 years ago. We’re all very fresh at this,” Ameristar’s Amy Bockman said.

While it’s still a fun novelty for most of the players, it did not take long for it to become a serious endeavor. After only a few games they’ve picked up on the nuances of the game, such as when and how to place the ball and rules quirks.

As they were enduring a 6-0 loss to Riverwalk, one Bally’s player even suggested to Fedell that they needed to practice more.

“We’ve learned a whole bunch,” Bockman said. “When we first started, a lot of us knew most of the rules but not all of them. Every game we’re teaching each other and getting dinged on things, and learning things.”
In the stands, plenty of people packed the bleachers and surrounded the field to cheer on their family members, friends and co-workers. Some even brought signs with the names of their favorite players.

Neal called the competition friendly, and said it flows from familiarity. The more athletic casino employees from Vicksburg have grown up playing with and against each other in other sports. Some in the industry have worked together at some point, and all of the casinos have pulled together for other community service projects.

Playing kickball is just the latest form of a regular family get-together.

“Everybody knows everybody because we’re all from the same town, so you know everybody on every team and it’s pretty much just fun,” Neal said. “We’ve done community projects together, so everybody knows everybody on the other teams. It’s the same deal. Bally’s is next door to us so we really wanted to beat our neighbors.”

The Casino League’s season had three regular-season games in August and a tournament with all of the teams at the end. The tournament champion will play a team from the Mississippi Gaming Commission on Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Sports Force Parks.

Fedell is hopeful that the league will return in 2024, after its warm reception this summer — and from the sound of it so is everyone else.

“It’s been a good time. Even the team members that aren’t on the team come and support everybody,” WaterView coach Chris Melton said. “It’s been good all around, and it’s created a buzz around the work environment.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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