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Washington Park: Bubble Soccer Game Shutdown, Volleyball Player's Lawsuit

This past Sunday, Angela Hudson showed up at Washington Park with eight giant inflatable bubbles. Her plan, she says, was to host a casual game of bubble soccer, in which players play soccer whilst encased in plastic bubbles. (Video below!) Even though the Facebook invitation had been forwarded to 800 people, Hudson was expecting a small group; in fact, she says, just eight of her friends showed up.

But they didn't get to play. As Hudson was blowing up the last bubble, she was approached by two park rangers. According to her, one of them said, "We're shutting you down."

See also: What you can and can't do in Washington Park starting Memorial Day weekend

Hudson says the rangers told her she couldn't play there without a permit. When Hudson asked if she could get a permit, she says the rangers told her that drop-in permits were only available for volleyball, as per new rules for Wash Park put in place in May. When Hudson pointed out that she wasn't charging anyone to play, that it was just a pick-up game, she says one of the rangers admitted it was a "gray area," but that the other was more harsh. According to Hudson, he told her that if she ever came back, she'd get a ticket.

"I had to deflate all the bubbles," Hudson says. "So many people came up to me afterwards and said, 'That is so messed up. Why can't you play here?'"

The reason, says Denver Parks and Recreation spokesman Jeff Green, may lie in where exactly in the park Hudson and her friends wanted to play. Due to complaints about overuse and drunken behavior, Denver Parks and Rec issued a set of emergency rules to govern the use of Wash Park on the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The rules include a drop-in permitting system for anyone wanting to play volleyball, a very popular sport in Wash Park. They also include increased parking enforcement and increased park ranger patrols. Soon after the rules were issued, however, volleyball players began to complain and Parks and Rec relaxed the permitting requirements, getting rid of the refundable deposit and specifying that players could set up anywhere in the park outside of a "passive area" reserved for families.

If Hudson and her friends were in that passive area -- the size of which Green says changes depending on the number of people in the park but is supposed to be clearly marked with signs -- that may have triggered the rangers to tell them to move on. Pick-up games of team sports like soccer with fewer than 25 players (games with more than 25 players require a permit) are only allowed outside of the passive area and only in places that another team or event hasn't already reserved with a permit, Green says. Such spaces can be hard to come by in Wash Park on summer weekends, he admits.

"Wash Park is a very, very busy park," he says. "A light, true pick-up game in the right space would certainly be allowable. But the rangers will come in and talk to folks if they see an issue and see if it's adhering to all of the rules."

Hudson and her friends ended up moving their game to a park in Glendale, where she says they weren't hassled by authorities. In fact, she says, a Glendale cop stopped to watch them play for a bit. But bubble soccer will be back in Denver soon. Hudson and her friends have secured a permit to start a league in early September in Sunken Gardens Park.

"Until then," she says, "we were just kind of having fun."

At least one attorney thinks the new rules for Wash Park are no fun at all. Damian Stone has sued Denver Parks and Rec for "illegally (passing) a law and regulations that makes it unlawful for families, children and other individuals to participate in impromptu casual drop-in sporting activities in Washington Park."

Continue for more on the lawsuit.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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