by Anja Wuolu
Among jungle gyms and open space, Northland Park in St. Joseph is now home to a large, wooden, octagonal structure built into four feet of concrete. The walls stand 30” high. The center holds sand. This is a gaga ball pit, courtesy of Mason Louwagie.
Louwagie first encountered the game when he attended Many Point Scout Camp in Pondford, Minn. Players hold onto the wall and bounce a dodgeball or kickball, trying to hit other players. If a player is struck at or below the knees, that player is out. The game continues until only one person is left in the game. At the Many Point’s gaga ball pit, as many as 30 people might play. Games also attract an audience, making gaga ball a highly social activity.
“It’s a super fun game that you can have a ton of people playing,” Louwagie said. “I thought I’d bring the joy here to St. Jo(seph).”
Louwagie arranged for volunteers to help with the construction and spoke with the St. Joseph Jaycees to get funding for the materials. After nearly 120 hours of volunteer labor, the structure was built on Sep. 10. Signs were added in December.
Since completing this community service project, Louwagie is eligible to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout, the most honorable badge any Scout can earn. Eagle Scout badges must be earned before a Scout reaches 18 years of age. Louwagie turned in the paperwork on Dec.12, just five days before he reached 18. Sometime in the next few months, the Eagle Board of Review will meet to determine whether to grant Louwagie the title.
“There’s definitely great value in the Scouting program,” said Scoutmaster Scott Duncan, “and Mason’s a good example of that.”
Duncan has led Scouts in Troop 84 from first grade or kindergarten all the way through high school, helping them earn merit badges and grow in rank from Cub Scout all the way to Eagle Scout. Duncan said he feels it’s an awesome experience to watch kids grow into impactful members of the community. A few recent initiatives include refurbishing a bus, building a free book library in front of the food shelf and refinishing a park in Holdingford.
At this time, those wishing to play at Louwagie’s gaga ball pit will need to bring their own ball. Rules are posted on the side of the pit. Louwagie said he would like to fundraise for a kickball and a sign asking for people to leave the ball. However, his father, Keith Louwagie, expressed concern the ball would not remain in the pit.
With or without a ball, people are already using the pit. Kids have been using the pit’s sand to make sand castles or treating the wooden structure as a fort. Louwagie said he is glad to see his space being used in a variety of creative ways.
Louwagie said he was disappointed however, to see yellow graffiti sprayed on the inside of the gaga pit’s walls. He said he feels it’s disrespectful, and hopes to sand the paint off within the next year.