Matt Urglavitch tried to imagine what this crazy new sport was like. He’d heard it combines aspects of soccer, team handball, basketball and more. It’s played on a circular field that has four goals and a bunch of different zones.
Soon after he arrived at Newtown Square’s Gable Field for his first game, Urglavitch was hooked. The speed and athleticism dazzled him. The sheer variety of skills employed surprised him. And like most of those who’ve just experienced kronum for the first time, he was an instant convert. “As soon as I saw the goals, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” Urglavitch recalls. “The warm-ups were unbelievable; these guys were throwing and kicking. There was this circular field. It really was mind-blowing.”
That’s the general reaction of most newbies. Created on the Main Line by Bill Gibson, kronum has grown exponentially in the past six years. It’s now played at high schools and colleges, and around the world. The unique rules and its fast style of play are attractive to younger athletes, many of whom ended their competitive-sports lives after high school. Those who play almost sound like kronum evangelists.
“Once I started playing it, I was hooked,” says one student, wearing a kronum shirt outside a Villanova University classroom.
That’s how it goes: People hear about the game, wonder about it, get exposed to it, and then express their undying loyalty to it. “We’re a small but passionate group trying to grow the sport,” says Urglavitch, who handles website administration, graphics and marketing at the kronum headquarters in Villanova.
The sport has sprouted in a variety of ways. There’s a high school league in the area, and college tournaments include schools in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. Local summer and fall adult-rec leagues also can be found.
A pro circuit will resume play in the spring of 2015. It features seven teams and is housed at the Maple Zone Sports Complex in Garnet Valley. Players get $100 a game to be a part of something that might be a worldwide phenomenon someday. The ultimate goal: inclusion in the Olympics. “Right now, we want to get as many people to experience it as possible,” says league manager Scott Kennedy.
Kronum is quite difficult to describe without visual assistance. And that’s exactly what Bill Gibson intended when he conceived the game about a decade ago. The 1993 University of Pennsylvania graduate and current Bryn Mawr resident has spent a good deal of his professional life listening to other people’s dreams. “You get used to dealing with new ideas,” says Gibson, who’s CEO of Deposco, an enterprise software company based in Atlanta. “As a venture capitalist, your life is new ideas.”
Gibson played three years of JV hoops at Penn before becoming bored with the game as he grew older. “The players are so big, and the lane is clogged with clunky, slow guys,” he says. “I started wondering whether they’d ever change the game.”
Reasoning that significant alterations weren’t in the offing, he asked himself what would appeal to the modern athlete—one interested in several different pursuits. “I started sketching on a page,” he recalls. “Instead of having an up-and-down game with two goals, I added two more goals. And instead of just an X-axis, why not add a Y-axis? What if you could go to all four goals at the same time? The modern athlete is making decisions from a lot of different options.”
The result evolved into what kronum is today: Two teams of 10 players try to kick or throw a ball into one of four goals on a circular field, which has seen its original diameter of 70 yards shrink to 50. Each goal has five circles arrayed just below the crossbar, and players get extra points by knocking the ball through them. Shots from different zones on the field bring different point totals, and those areas bring their own rules. In the “wedge,” for instance, players can’t use their hands.
Kronum is a fast-paced game that rewards both teamwork and individual talent. It also requires stamina, a diverse skill set, and creativity. Its name is an amalgamation of “crown” (which Gibson calls the top part of each goal) and “forum” (a competitive and online venue).
By 2008, Gibson had finalized the game’s rules and introduced the game via social media. In the ensuing five-plus years, kronum has experienced impressive growth. In addition to the aforementioned high school, collegiate and professional avenues, there’s a burgeoning international presence. Gibson estimates that kronum headquarters has shipped balls and other equipment to 30 countries around the world, including Australia, Russia and Brazil. A professor in the Netherlands put together a clinic for more than 200 educators in hopes that they’d use kronum in their physical-education programs, and a soccer club in Poland wants to try it. “In the next one to three years, we want to create new partnerships,” Gibson says.
One such relationship is with a major sporting goods producer, which plans to create a flexible, portable kronum goal that can be shipped anywhere in the world and be sold in stores throughout the United States. Locally, the goal is to get more schools to include kronum on their intramural menus.
In the meantime, the game should continue to bloom on social media. “This is the first global-awareness sport born online,” Gibson says.
If that sounds just a little different, so be it. Welcome to kronum.