Once is about college athletes and their quest to do something greater than themselves, and their sport. While many of my main characters are three-sport athletes, shotball is by far the most intriguing sport not only in the book, but in the world of Gaia. What is shotball? Think of its popularity in Columbia and in the rest of the world as something that would rival American Football in the United States and Association Football (Soccer) in many other parts of the world.
First, I wish to provide some basic information regarding the game. Shotball is played with eleven players per side, just like American and Association Football. Like American Football, the field is one-hundred yards in length. There is one goaltender, two defenders who only play on the defensive half of the field, four centers who play from the defensive twenty-five-yard line to the offensive twenty-five-yard line, three attackers, who play on the offensive half of the field, and one wanderer, who can play anywhere on the field at any given time.
What is and isn’t allowed in the game? Shotball is very reminiscent to rugby in many ways, but there are many differences. For one, forward passing is legal, and the ball can be moved by carrying it downfield, by passing, kicking, punting, or drop-kicking. There are three ways to score: one point is scored by throwing the ball into the net, two points are scored by kicking, and three points are scored via drop-kick. The goaltender may leave the box and it must be advised goaltender interference is allowed as long as the ball is in the air during a shot. If the goaltender is in possession of the ball, they may be hit or tackled. Tackling below the shoulders is legal on any player.
Now for the fouls and penalties, which work like hockey. There are minors, double-minors, and majors. Most penalties are self-explanatory, but I’ll give a brief rundown of each:
Offsides: Any player crosses into a restricted zone. Only wanderers cannot go offsides. Possession of the ball returns to the opposing team.
Minors: two-minutes on the sideline.
Holding: Grabbing another player’s jersey while they’re trying to chase down the ball carrier.
Block in the back: Blocking another player on their blindside while chasing down the ball carrier.
Defensive holding: A defending player grabbing the jersey to slow down the offensive player when ball is in possession of the opposing team.
Tripping: A player intentionally trips another player at any time during the game.
Interference: A player defending player pushes, shoves, or holds an intended receiver when the ball is in the air.
Chop-block: An offensive player blocks a defensive player below the belt.
Intentional Grounding: An offensive player intentionally throws the ball out of bounds or to an area where no receiver is in the vicinity.
Double-minor: Four minutes on the sidelines.
A single player repeating the same minor penalty twice will be subject to a double-minor.
Delay of Game: If a player is tackled, they must have the opportunity to throw the ball to another player after being tackled, and the tacklers must release themselves of the ball carrier immediately.
Horse collar tackle: Bringing down a player by the collar of their jersey.
Roughing the passer: Hitting a player after the ball is thrown. Note that if a player is already in the motion of tackling, this penalty must be waved off, or if the player is readying himself to tackle the passer.
Roughing the kicker: Hitting a player after they kick, punt, or drop-kick the ball. This is an identical penalty to roughing the passer.
Hit on defenseless player: Occurs when the defense intentionally hits a defenseless player. This occurs if the two players are fifteen yards or more behind the ball carrier, or if a player jumps to catch a ball and is tackled hard before landing. Note that this penalty is much like roughing the passer. If a defensive player is already in the motion of tackling, or readying their momentum to tackle, the penalty is waved off and the offensive player assumes risk. This penalty only occurs if the defensive player readies themselves to tackle after the receiver has leaped into the air.
Goaltender Interference: As previously mentioned, this is legal as long as the ball is in the air. If an offensive player makes contact with the goaltender before the ball is in the air, this will be a penalty every time.
If a player repeats a double-minor twice, or a minor more than three times in one game, they’re subject to a major, which is five minutes on the sideline. If a player repeats a major twice, they’re ejected from the game.
If any player repeats the same minor more than four times in a game, they’re ejected, yet may remain on the sidelines, as it works as a foul-out, much like basketball.
If any player repeats the same double-minor more than three times in a game, they’re ejected.
Targeting: Targeting the head or shoulders of an opposing player. This goes for both the offense and defense.
Piling on: Occurs when a player intentionally piles on after a player is tackled. Note this penalty is waved if the ball is fumbled and an attempt to recover the loose ball occurs.
Anything flagrant: Such as throwing down a defenseless player, throwing the ball at a player’s head, or anything similar that threatens the integrity of the game.
*Note that for all penalties, if a penalty occurs while a player is in the process of shooting, they’re awarded a penalty shot.
The game lasts forty to sixty minutes, depending on the quarter length. In the professional leagues (only mentioned in Once), the game is four, fifteen minute quarters. In the collegiate game, they’re twelve minutes, while in high school, they’re only ten minutes. Some versions simply play two twenty minute halves or two twenty-four minute halves in favor of quarters, while sometimes in the collegiate game or professional game, three periods are used. In collegiate and professional games (not mentioned in the book), it is the home team who decides whether they use halves, quarters, or periods. Periods are not available for use at the high school level.
Overtime rules consist of an additional five-minute period, and the first team to score wins. If a tie persists, they go on to a shootout, where the first team to score wins. Note, that if the first player scores, the other team does get a chance to score as well. It is only after both teams receive an equal chance to score will the game be deemed over. Therefore, if the first team scores on their first shot, the second team receives a chance to match it.
Shotball is featured in Once. It contains a vital subplot which will teach the reader much about the characters, their temperaments, and their personas. In real life, we become different people when sports erupt. Whether we’re playing, our sons and daughters (I’m currently childless), our favorite collegiate and professional sports teams, or anyone in between, our attitudes change from calm, reserved, and easy-going to competitive. Sometimes, simply competitive is an understatement.