As part of a spirit day at the school where I teach, the Athletic Department organized a dodgeball tournament for students and faculty – that is, each grade level, eight through twelve, as well as the faculty had to come up with teams to play against each other in a three round tournament. The faculty could organize two teams, as could the seniors.
As a huge fan of the film Dodgeball and an avid player in my youth, I couldn’t wait to sign up, was eager for the tournament to start. The Athletic Director was nice enough to make up some spiffy shirts, inspired quite clearly by the movie.
The faculty team I was on would be facing the 9th graders in the first round, boys and girls of about 15 years old. Lest you worry for their safety, let me say that, first of all, we do not play dodgeball with the traditional red rubber ball. No we play with a set of smaller, dense foam balls that can be thrown quite hard but don’t have that slapping, resonant impact of Old Red. Secondly, most of the faculty team are in their 30s and 40s, and while many of us could throw quite hard, we presented somewhat larger targets, and slow-footed ones at that. Those 9th graders are small and fast, and very good at avoiding things like hurtling foam balls, vocabulary quizzes, and vegetables. I know this for a fact. I used to teach them, when I could catch them.
All this is to say that when the opening whistle blew and the crowd began to cheer, and I a brave display of charging to midcourt and picking up several balls, but my first set of throws didn’t work out. The foam balls had a tendency to rise and cut – like a classic four-seam fastball. My devastating fireball throws sailed over my opponents heads. And while I was hanging out in the back dodging with the rest of the lumbering, perspiring teachers, I caught the most glancing of glancingest blows on the foot, and into jail I went. The 9th graders made quick work of us.
The seniors eventually won the tournament in the end. They always do with these things.
In talking with the Athletic Director the next day, we came around to the subject of other playground or street games: stickball, handball, stoopball, kickball, toss up and cream, and so forth. The AD, who was from Florida, said that he went to a school once where they played a game called slugball – an indoor variation I’d never heard of, using a volleyball.
Slugball follows a basic kickball setup with three bases and home, and a pitcher whose job it is to serve whoever is up at the plate with a suitable ball for slugging. That is, the player up could punch (or slap, or poke) the ball with his hand or forearm. Outs are made by a forceout at first, but teams could “stack” players on base to prevent a forceout at other bases. If you were tagged by a player holding the ball or pegged by a thrown ball between bases, that was also an out. Both the ability to control the direction of the “slug”” and the option to not run the bases seem to give the team on offense a much wider range of options than in kickball.
You might check out Streetplay.com or the Wikipedia article for kickball for all the variations of rules and codes.
I have two questions for readers – so feel free to offer some comments here on the blog:
1) Have you ever played slugball, or something close to it?
2) What unique variations of playground games did you play as a kid?
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