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Johnny LeHaneJohnny LeHane
Co-founder and Director of Franchising, WAKA Kickball
Founding Member, Kingston
Lives in Rhinebeck, NY

Johnny is a founding member of BEAHIVE Kingston, having joined when we opened there in December 2009. WAKA Kickball is a nationwide sport and social club for adults.

Below the video is a transcript of the interview, condensed and edited for your enjoyment. (Lots of bzzz and gratitude to Rick Feltington for his direction and editing of the video.)

BEAHIVE:  Where did this idea come from for kickball?

Johnny:  For kickball, it was four guys in a bar. We were at our favorite bar in Washington DC. We had this other little club where we knew where $1 drinks were on any given night, but we were looking for something else to do that wasn’t always in a bar, though that’s a fun part. Somebody mentioned kickball, and why didn’t we play it anymore? Why does kickball get left off the playground? Another person said, “We should play a game. We should start a league. We should start a world adult kickball association,” which is where WAKA comes from.

Really, the big difference is that the guys that were in that conversation aren’t the kind of guys who will leave a bar conversation on a napkin on the floor. But we had a meeting the next day, and WAKA was born.

BEAHIVE:  What is it that you love about the work you do?

Johnny:  Well, we started as a kickball club for adults. What I really love about it is, A, the initial reaction that you get when you tell somebody what you do for a living, or what you’re offering, that you’re hoping that they’re going to join, which is kickball. They’re always like, “Really?!” You usually get two things: They think you’re kidding, and then they want to know where to sign up. So, that’s the first thing that I love about it.

But then, how much my customers love it, is really what I love about it. They look forward to it. You see on Facebook, “Hey I’m watching the clock the minutes are going by. I can’t wait for kickball. I can’t wait for dodge ball.”

And then, thirdly, it’s the outcomes, which are fantastic friendships, and great times. We have tons of kickball relationships, kickball weddings, and what we call, kickball babies. Literally, dozens of families have been started because they met through our network, which is just the best thing that you can have.

BEAHIVE:  Are there challenges to the work you do?

Johnny:  There’s a ton of challenges. One of the reasons that I’m in a coworking space is because we are a completely virtual company. We actually have 35 full-time employees from Hawaii to Maine, and they all work from home or coffee shops or coworking spaces. Working virtually has its challenges. A social outlet, and adult social outlet. I’m a parent of three young kids, is really something that somebody who works from home craves. I’ve heard it again, and again, from people in the BEAHIVE, and from my employees.

I was really happy to find BEAHIVE. I had actually been looking for coworking space for a while, and following the trend because it matches well with my past career in technologies, and was really excited when they brought it to Kingston.

BEAHIVE:  How has it been to be working at the BEAHIVE? Has it been helpful?

Johnny:  It definitely has. I’ve met some great people. I’ve gotten out of the house. I’ve gotten to know Uptown Kingston, and actually over the last few years, seen it really revive itself. A lot of small towns and neighborhoods had a tough time, as we all know, over the last few years. It’s been cool to think that BEAHIVE is a little part of that in bringing the neighborhood back to life. I’ve gotten to know people here in BEAHIVE, as well as people in the neighborhood, the other proprietors of businesses. I’m always looking to talk to other business owners, which is often a challenge especially in a virtual or isolated environment.

BEAHIVE:  What kind of business owners do you like to talk to?

Johnny:  I will talk to any business owner about anything. As an example, I know that there are software designers, and we started franchising two years ago, and we needed to set up a new franchise website. One of the BEAHIVE members actually happened to have experience with franchise websites, so I worked with him. I became good friends with him, and set that up. We talk shop as well as working on the website. We talk to each other about business. Another member is a real experienced business consultant. He’s worked with the really big guys, and the really little guys, and we also became really good friends. It’s great.

I know one of the things BEAHIVE does is the sounding board. It’s like that. I like the sounding board in its own regimented environment, but it’s also a sounding board every day. The people that I’ve met at BEAHIVE are people that I know I can call, or come into BEAHIVE and talk to whenever I am just struggling with something where I don’t have another business peer to talk to.

BEAHIVE:  What else is important to you about your work?

Johnny:  About my work, one of the most exciting things for me, and actually one of the really big challenges for me lately, as I mentioned, is that we have started franchising. That is just something that I have had a lot of fun with, and I look forward to working with franchisees of our process, of our concept in this area — up in Albany, in the Mid‑Hudson Valley area, and in the Westchester area. It’s a great opportunity for me to be close to franchisees. I’ve got them in other parts of the country, but, like my customer service reps that run our leagues out of Poughkeepsie, you don’t learn anything like you do when you get in front of the customer. Being close to franchisees in the local and surrounding market is something I’m really looking forward to.

BEAHIVE:  Nice. Do you guys have a five-year vision of where it’s going?

Johnny:  Yes. We work very hard on visioning at WAKA. We definitely do have visions. We have been perfecting “kickball” for the last 15 years. We just added dodge ball, and we really see great opportunities in adding a lot of high fun, low skill level, activities and sports into our offering. People can play kickball if they want to, but maybe they want to play dodge ball, maybe they want to play flag football, maybe they want to do bar trivia, or maybe they just want to go to the movies, or go skiing with people that they’ve met that have this same passion for fun.

BEAHIVE:  Do you think this helps people to be a kid again?

Johnny:  Absolutely. Over the past decade there’s been a lot of talk about the lengthening of childhood, and how people come out of college. Maybe it’s because of longer lives, maybe it’s because of the economy, all these things that people are looking to recapture their youth, or delay their adulthood. I like to think that we have a balance of that. We let you be a kid again, but we also provide you with some doorways to full adulthood in terms of, networking, business networking, relationship networking.

One of the other things that’s very important to us is charity. For a lot of our players, their first experience in charitable giving, or charitable actions, is actually with their league charity. Whether it’s Kick‑It, which is a great national charity that actually provides kickball tournament kits as a means of fundraising for children with cancer, or their local Boys & Girls Club, or their local SPCA.

We really encourage each league to adopt a local charity, and that gives our players a great opportunity to be exposed to charity, and to be in contact with people who are really making a meaningful change.

BEAHIVE:  Do you play?

Johnny:  I do play. We play in Poughkeepsie, we play at Casperkill, and then we all retire to Mahoney’s Irish Pub in Poughkeepsie. We have a great time there. We’ve been playing since I moved back to the area in, I believe, 2006. We’ve had a league there, we play three times a year, and we are looking to see if we can start some of the other sports in the area, as well.

BEAHIVE:  Awesome. Is it a weekly game?

Johnny:  It’s a weekly game. We run leagues that run about an eight-week season, and then they have a single elimination tournament to crown the championship team. We have registration open now or very soon actually for the spring league, and then they’ll play in the summer, and, again, in the fall. I know that BEAHIVE is also in Beacon, and Albany. We actually have the New York capital league up in Albany. They have only been around for two, or three years, but it’s a great crew.

BEAHIVE:  How much does it cost to participate?

Johnny:  Basic registration is by an individual, it’s $65 and up I say because it really depends on local field costs. In some areas, it’s a little more than that, but it’s about $65 for about three months. That’s kickball. Other offerings vary a little bit up and down from there.

BEAHIVE:  How do I sign up for kickball?

Johnny:  Well, it’s pretty easy. You go to kickball.com, and you can sign up as an individual, and we’ll place you on a team. You can create a small group and tell your friends to join that group, or you can bring a whole team. We highly encourage people to come out to our free pickup game so they can meet people that they might want to play with, and see what team will really fit for them.

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