Local entrepreneur Chris Ruder aims to make Spikeball the official sport of summer in Chicago.
The origins of Spikeball—a game described as “the lovechild of volleyball and four square”—weren’t exactly auspicious. “I felt like I was forcing this boulder uphill at times,” admits company CEO Chris Ruder, who first promoted the game in 2008 by organizing meet-ups at North Avenue Beach and ran the company by himself out of his home for its first five years. Laughs the Wicker Park resident, “I used a lot of shame and guilt to get friends and family to help support the league and play.”
Fast forward to 2016: Spikeball is one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States—no. 139 on last year’s Inc. 5000—with more than one million players and 1,500 ranked teams across the country. A 2015 appearance on Shark Tank first brought the game into the public eye, but Ruder has no illusions about the true secret of Spikeball’s success: “It’s our community,” he says, citing the game’s passionate following among everyone from pro athletes and PE teachers to club players who are flocking to tournaments nationwide.
“Some people consider it just a fun, casual backyard game,” notes Ruder, “and that’s totally fine. But the mission of the company is to create the next great American sport.” The 2016 USA Spikeball Midwest Tour Grand Slam: Chicago is August 13 at Montrose Beach, 4400 N. Lake Shore Dr.