PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Gianna Pecchia really was looking for love when she joined the online dating app Tinder. But last summer, she found another way to score.
Pecchia, 30, of Warwick, used the app to recruit 46 players for Clubwaka kickball teams in Pawtucket. Founded in 1998 as the World Kickball Association, Clubwaka offers sports leagues and social activities for adults.
Friends persuaded her to join the club five years ago, even though she had strong social anxiety. She quickly made a strong circle of friends, and became a league manager.
“I joined and I sucked and I still suck, and I’m proud of it,” Pecchia told the Globe during a recent game under the lights at the Hank Soar Athletic Complex in Pawtucket. “I’m just here for the social aspect and getting people involved in it to have fun and meet new people.”
Having fun and meeting new people seems in line with what dating app users are looking for as well. So Pecchia decided to start swiping on everyone regardless of their appearance, sex, or interests and invite them to play kickball. That’s 100 free swipes on Tinder and 25 on Bumble each day.
The only requirement was having a good time.
“I kind of interviewed people based on personality,” Pecchia said. “We would go to dinner and be like, here are people from the league and we would all vibe and if you were interested, great. If you weren’t, that’s fine, too.”
She updated her profile to include information about the kickball league, and also about the Cupid Undie Run, a one-mile, wintertime, run-in-your underwear at Fenway Park in Boston, to benefit neurofibromatosis research. Then she started swiping.
The responses on the dating apps ranged from enthusiastic to obscene.
“There would be one of three responses,” Pecchia said. “It would either be people messaging me right away saying that they want to play kickball or they think that would be so cool but they’re not good. (or) It would be people who said, ‘Kickball, I haven’t played that since elementary school.’” The third response would come from Tinder users, she said. “They would think it was a sexual thing of kicking them in the balls. I would clarify that that’s not the case and that it’s a real league.”
But her recruitment tactics weren’t a hit with Tinder, which apparently allows many things but does not allow recruiting.
Pecchia says she got an email from the company a few weeks later, warning her that, based on her profile, she could be banned for soliciting people.
Shortly after the warnings, on Jan. 6, Tinder swiped left and banned her for life.
Pecchia emailed Tinder Support to ask what rules she violated but Tinder responded with links to the Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. It did not identify which rules were broken, but there is a section about “Promotion and Solicitation.”
“Soliciting other users is prohibited on Tinder,” the guidelines read. “It’s fine to invite your matches to something that you’re doing, but if the purpose of your profile is to advertise your event or business, non-profit, political campaign, contest, or to conduct research, we may delete your account.”
“We take our violations of our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines very seriously,” Tinder told Pecchia in an email. “Please note that we do not have an appeals process at this time, therefore your account will remain banned from Tinder. You will not be able to create a new Tinder profile using your Facebook account and/or phone number.”
Tinder spokesperson Sophie Sieck told the Globe in an email that Pecchia “was banned appropriately according to our community guidelines.”
“We cannot provide a formal statement on the details of individual member accounts,” she added.
Clubwaka has praised Pecchia’s efforts, dubbing her “Kickball Cupid.”
“I fully support it and totally encourage her,” Clubwaka General manager Johanna Hueber said. “This is ingenious. Someone finally had the balls to do it. It’s a great way for people to end up meeting people.”
Pecchia says she was forthright with people about her intentions on the app, which lets you add “Passions” to your profile to connect with people with shared interests. This year, thanks to Pecchia, Clubwaka had its best season, Hueber said, with 245 players and 15 teams.
Pecchia’s entire team is made of dating app recruits.
“She did meet and greets to make sure to see what people’s level of interest and skill were,” Hueber says. “We have teams that are just for fun and competitive teams.”
Clubwaka commissioner, Gina Beretta was recruited by Pecchia four years ago (not via Tinder). She says the kickball league is like a live version of online dating.
“We all are trying to get back out and get into the dating pool,” Beretta said. “I feel like this is a fun way to do it, getting out and being active but also having the social side of it and going to the bar afterward.”
Steve Elliott, 36, of Warwick, said he was caught off guard by Pecchia’s Tinder offer but now thinks it was actually a good idea.
“I thought about it and was like, you know what? This is just getting out,” he said. “I anticipated it being awkward. I was a little shy at first to be honest, but everyone was cool. Everyone was social and welcoming and I think everyone had the same apprehension and that just kind of all meshed together well. Now we’re going out after each game and hanging out.”
Jesse Smith and Nicole Jacinto weren’t recruited by Pecchia, but joining the league made a love connection for them. Last week, Smith orchestrated a second inning stretch that brought players together at the pitcher’s mound so that he could propose to Nicole.
“When I came here, I knew no one,” Smith says. “Now, we’re living together. ... I met three of my best friends and my future wife here in a span of four years. I’m 33 years old, that normally doesn’t happen. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Pecchia says most of her friends now are from kickball. But she’d like to be reinstated on Tinder, because she loved using the app for dating and meeting people with similar interests. Bringing them to kickball just introduced them to a bigger pool of people.
“I love swiping, I love meeting new people. And it’s people outside of your typical type,” she said. “If I’m swiping on everyone, whether they’re for me or for someone else, there’s someone out there for everyone, and so I’m bringing them to the league and making it easy to socialize.”
“Everyone wants friendship, whether you admit it or not,” she said. “After high school and college, you don’t get that as much as an adult and this is a great way to do it. You know, and then you there’s a whole dating pool. So whether you want to hook up or you want to date or whatever you’re on a dating app for, you can find it at kickball.”