It’s a cross between lacrosse and dodgeball. Ed White heads to Ripon to learn about VX

NARG 1402141AM1 Ripon VX club (1402141AM1)
NARG 1402141AM1 Ripon VX club (1402141AM1)

Trying to break into Britain’s cluttered sports industry is a challenge most would never attempt.

But that task has been firmly grasped by one inventor and his cohorts in Ripon over the last eight years.

NARG 1402141AM5 VX feature. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1402141AM5)

NARG 1402141AM5 VX feature. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1402141AM5)

Paul Hildreth has championed his new sport, VX across the world since he founded it in 2006.

Think of lacrosse, mixed with dodgeball.

It’s a game played with a stick that has a cradle at either end. Boys and girls compete on an equal footing. And there’s a simple scoring system to score points by launching balls at your opposition below the head.

The V relates to the starting position shape of the balls, while the X are the 10 players involved.

NARG 1402141AM4 VX feature. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1402141AM4)

NARG 1402141AM4 VX feature. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1402141AM4)

After an initial boom across the world, the sport’s progress slowed. But, over the last few months Hildreth believes it has “just started to go”.

“Things are really starting to move now,” Hildreth said, shortly after taking a session to a group of children at Ripon Grammar School.

“I would like to think in the next five years we will have some very active national governing bodies competing at national league level.

“We have just shipped the first lot of equipment over to India, and that’s 14 national governing bodies now.”

Originally marketed as Rock-It-Ball, the sport reverted to the VX banner in 2012 as Hildreth’s governing body sought a name to attract an international audience.

The V signified the shape the tennis balls make when kicked out to start a game. The X determined the players on the court.

“VX is going to be VX however it is pronounced,” he said.

“We rebranded in 2012 to cater to international growth to make it snappier and easier to promote.

“The issue was translating it into so many different languages. It was a long drawn out process which involved the whole sport’s worldwide community.”

It was a wacky decision for a man with a technology transfer business to switch his career and take on the challenges of bringing a new sport into a convoluted market.

It all started from one fortuitous conversation.

“It was serendipity,” he explained.

“It was a mistake, a total misunderstanding.

“One of the clients got in touch and said what do you think to this? It was firing tennis balls at each other with paintball guns.

“When I saw the product, it wasn’t like that at all.

“After that we got the original idea and the concept of the stick. We put the two together and the rules got refined. We took it to the sports condition conference in February 2006 and it just lit fire. “

Since its inception, the sport has crossed four continents and sent its world champion to teach children in Uganda.

Within its rebrand, new rules were set up for a singles (V2) and doubles (V4) competition played in the small confines of a squash court.

It’s the shorter format that Hildreth believes could take the world by storm.

He said: “We had a TV company looking at it. They said, this is fantastic, but there’s too much action.

“Put it in a small area, one against one, and make it gladiatorial. There’s still three balls, it’s very fast.”

Hildreth’s son Tom is the best in the world at the shorter format, despite preferring the five-a-side team event.

He has two world championship crowns from the previous two years and is hoping to add a hat-trick when the next World Cup takes place in August.

There might not be the millions of players competing across the world just yet, but the competition remains stiff across the best exponents of the game.

“Since the first prototypes were delivered to our house, Tom’s been playing. He’s been involved right from the start,” said Paul.

“My favourite part of it is the teamwork and the tactics,” added 23-year-old Tom.

“People still have a long way go in knowing how deep the sport goes. A lot of people started off with too rigid tactics. Now it’s more flexible.”

Both Hildreths work full-time spreading the sport across the country, and across the globe.

Last year there were players from Germany, America and Denmark for the first time. And with governing bodies expanding by the month, there is hopes competition will increase again.

Ripon Grammar has been a major part of VX’s growth. It is home to the sport’s governing body, with its boarding facilities allowing for international contests to take part there. PE teacher Helen Mackenzie, VX’s executive director, has pressed for the national centre of excellence to be based here.

The school has incorporated the sport into its curriculum. Music students have composed a video theme tune, design students have worked its logo and PE students have taken to it like a duck to water.

She said: “I saw it as an opportunity for people to get involved in sport. Ripon Grammar school, we have non-sporty kids. This was something all the kids wanted to take part in.

“All kids love a gimmick, and fancy having a sport where you can fire balls at other people.”

But that the sport is merely a gimmick is something that Hildreth and Mackenzie work hard to quell.

Universities and schools have latched onto it, with more than 8,000 people playing regularly.

A first ever universities championship could be set up later this year. Then a three forces tournament – with the army, navy and airforce having kits across the country - is the next goal.

Only time will tell how far it will “move”.

Paul said: “The aim, would be a televised professional singles league. It is very camera friendly. You get the characters in with their walk-on music.

“If Barry Hearn or someone could work their magic on this, it would just take off.

“Bear in mind dodgeball was only recognised two years ago by Sport England as a sport. That was only after the film when that really started to grow.”

Tom added: “So all we need now is a Hollywood contract and we will be away.”