Kris-Kross makes its debut at the YMCA's 150th anniversary assembly.

NEW ORLEANS — Basketball. Volleyball. Racquetball. These are some of the sports that the YMCA of America claims were created within Y facilities.

In keeping with this tradition of innovation, the YMCA of USA, as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, held a contest challenging Y's across the country to invent the “sport of the new century.” The winner? Kris-Kross.

Created at the Champaign County YMCA (central Illinois), Kris-Kross made its national debut at the YMCA's general assembly, with 12 energetic youngsters playing the new game.

Looking like a hybrid of hockey, water polo, team handball and soccer, Kris-Kross takes place on a 2,500-square-foot playing area. The game requires a ball (about the size of a volleyball, made of a soft material to avoid injury), two goals (hockey nets placed in opposite corners) and various padded obstacles (gym mats, foam inclines, etc.) arranged randomly to vary the degree of difficulty.

Two teams compete in Kris-Kross six to a side, including the goalkeeper. Players score by throwing the ball into the opposing team's net. A player can only possess the ball for three steps or three seconds; after that, he must pass or take a shot. When a goal is scored, the goalie must immediately pass the ball back into play.

With all of this constant motion, Kris-Kross makes for a fast-paced competition. The game is intended to build hand-eye coordination, agility and, most importantly, cardiovascular endurance. In fact, Kris-Kross's inventors Kurt Heddinger and Casey Hayasaki, two gymnastic instructors at the Champaign County YMCA came up with the sport in 1999 to give gymnasts a fun cardio workout.

“In a gymnastic setting, you get a lot of power work, but you don't always get that cardiovascular workout,” said Clint Kugler, director of operations with the Champaign County YMCA. “And [Kris-Kross] is a kick-butt cardio workout.”

The young, competitive gymnasts at the Champaign County YMCA were the first to play Kris-Kross (originally called Happyball because the ball had a smiley face drawn on it). Word spread, and soon the recreational gymnasts boys and girls alike were competing. Kris-Kross even became a popular part of the facility's gymnastic birthday parties.

Eventually, the two instructors, gymnasts from the University of Illinois, took the sport back to the campus. Soon, the university's male gymnasts were playing Kris-Kross.

Recognizing Kris-Kross's broad appeal, Kugler concluded that the sport would make an excellent entry in the YMCA contest. YMCA of USA wanted a sport that could appeal to children and adults, and Kris-Kross is suitable for everyone, according to Kugler. You don't need to be the biggest, fastest athlete to compete.

“It's just a game that flows, there's no contact, and it can be played just about anywhere too,” Kugler said.

Before submitting Kris-Kross for the contest, Kugler went over the original rules. “I sat down and put them into a format that could be easily digested by anybody…,” Kugler said. “They were pretty wishy-washy before.”

Kugler's tweaking paid off. The judging panel consisting of a group of children who played all of the submitted games, and a team of adults who supervised named Kris-Kross the contest winner in June.

“We received a $5,000 check from the national Y,” Kugler said. “Of that $5,000, $2,500 goes to our annual support campaign to raise money toward scholarships…. The other $2,500 goes toward the purchase of sports equipment.”

The Champaign County YMCA may have gotten prize money, but the national YMCA got the game.

“One of the rules is that it becomes the possession of the national YMCA, YMCA of USA,” Kugler said. “It is now their game, and each Y will receive copies of the rules. Here in Champaign, we are looking to do some tournaments to increase awareness of the game.”