SCRANTON — As a former high school and college athlete, Pete Fulton didn’t come to the Scranton Social Sports Club looking for a date.
But when he found one with a new teammate, it only made his experience in the adult co-ed league twice as great.
He said he was smitten at first sight.
The Luzerne resident was referring to his relationship with Janelle Heisler, who plays on the same volleyball team as Fulton.
But he also expressed such feelings about the Scranton Social Sports Club, where adult athletes from the consumed to the casual go to mingle good games with good times.
“People want to meet new people,” Jeremy Wint of Scranton said, just as a new contestant to the club’s outdoor volleyball league was being greeted by a league veteran, “go out and have a good time, maybe rekindle old friendships.”
This is the place to do all of that.
It’s become a popular meeting place and physical exercise destination for the average Joes of the Scranton area.
There’s even a volleyball team in the club named “The Average Joes.”
Now, the Club’s co-owners/operators, Christian Rinaldi and his cousin Eric Bartels, are trying to bring the same type of positive vibes to Wilkes-Barre.
“Wilkes-Barre’s more of a project we’re working on,” Rinaldi said. “We are still trying to grow there.”
Indeed, the Wilkes-Barre Social Sports Club was forced to cancel a scheduled Dodgeball League during the spring when it fell short of the required eight-team sign-ups.
Still, the club’s organizers and some participants have faith the idea will eventually catch on in the Wyoming Valley.
“It’s a great avenue to meet people,” said Fulton, who grew up in Larksville, at the start of the Scranton Social Sports Club’s outdoor volleyball season at the Scranton’s South Side Sports Complex. “Most of the people here, these are people who live and work around Scranton. In the Wilkes-Barre area, the colleges already provide this. It’s difficult to get fields and places to play, because they don’t know what this is.
“But if they saw what the model is here and how it’s worked, it’s a no-brainer to let someone in and grow this in the Wyoming Valley.”
What it provides is a ball of fun for everyone aged 21 and over.
The Scranton Social Sports Club provides various sports leagues, including dodgeball, indoor and outdoor volleyball, soccer, Frisbee and softball, that are held one day each week and run in eight-week regular season increments plus playoffs.
Afterwards, the real games begin.
Most teams in the Scranton Social Sports Club are sponsored by Scranton-area bars, which league participants are encouraged to visit following games.
“We actually aren’t just sports,” Rinaldi said. “We have other things that aren’t sports-related.”
The group’s annual Hunt and Crawl competition — a bar crawl/scavenger hunt that awards points for various challenges and tasks through the hunt around Scranton — is coming up July 26. And Rinaldi mentions the club also hosts beer pong tournaments and corn hole tournaments (a beanbag toss) among its other activities.
Sounds like a college frat party.
“Yeah, it does have a college feel to it,” Rinaldi said. “But our primary age group is 25-to-35. Our youngest member is 21, and our oldest is 65. We have people from all ages, people in their 50s who play regularly. There are people from the area looking for something to do here, people who moved here. Now they’re going to each others’ sons’ birthday parties.
“This is a different avenue for people to meet each other, as opposed to just going to the bar.”
Rinaldi got the club going after reading about such examples in the Allentown area and in larger cities such as New York and Chicago. Scranton already had a smaller version of such a club, but it’s been blossoming since Rinaldi became involved.
Most of the leagues in the club cost $50 per person to join, and teams are composed of an even split between men and women.
“Christian took a good concept and made it really focused on this area,” said Katie Wierzbicki, a retail worker from Riverside who excelled in softball and track and field in high school and now includes such sports as volleyball and dodgeball among her adult sports activities. “You could sign up for one sport or two. You don’t have to sign up for more than one. If you happen not to like it, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, you don’t have to play ever again.”
Many of the club’s participants play over and over again, moving from one sports season to the next.
“I try to play every sport the club offers,” said Wint, a geotechnical engineer during his day job and a former club volleyball player on his club team at Northeastern University. “I’m a regular nine-to-fiver. There are a lot more people playing every year.”
Sometimes, the competition even leads to a love connection.
Heisler found hers through happenstance.
She was invited by a co-worker to join a dodgeball team at the Scranton club in the fall, and although she accepted, she nearly fell through on the deal.
“I was apprehensive, not being very athletic,” said Heisler, who does have a couple years of high school volleyball experience in her background. “To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to come that night. I kind of expressed that to my friend. he kind of assured me it was just for fun. First time I played, it was clear that’s why everybody was here.
“It’s more social than sporty.”
Now, she sports a boyfriend in Fulton who teams up with her on a handful of sports teams in the Scranton Social Sports Club.
“I played sports all throughout high school and college,” said Fulton, who excelled in soccer and basketball through his school years and is now a retirement counselor by day. “To come from that competitive level to, then, nothing, this fills a major gap. It’s all the added stuff — camaraderie, team chemistry. I met my girlfriend here. Somebody needed her, said we need an extra player, she signed up.
“We haven’t stopped playing since.”