As I scan the TV channels from time to time I’m amazed at the types of “sports” people are occupying their spare time with these days. Over and over I see footage of skate boarders and roller bladders sliding down stair rails and flying down several flights of steps, doing handstands on fire hydrants, park benches and stationary pedestrians. Everything the mind can imagine is being tried these days: skydiving, bungee jumping, bungee skydiving, skydiving with stationary pedestrians… it goes on and on. But sadly, I can’t help to think that these people are all pussies. Yes, you heard me right, wimps! When I was young we participated in even more extreme sports than those concocted today and some were even against our will.
Now how many of you remember dodge ball? I believe they’ve outlawed this sport in 49 countries now. I can still recall the many times we were corralled like cattle into that dreadful circle on the playground. I still hear the cracking of the teachers’ whips in my dreams as they “hiyad” us into that circle of no return, the soft bleating of the other children providing a temporary moment of calm before the massacre began. We would stand their dazed and confused our nerves on edge as the biggest and meanest of our fellow classmates were chosen to surround us, the evil look of a crazed crack addict just before a fix in their eyes. Then, after what seemed like hours, the device that sparked fear in the hearts of children everywhere would be produced: the dreaded red rubber ball. If you’ve never seen one of these, let me describe it to you. It is a large red rubber ball approximately two feet in diameter with a surface poxed with welt-producing bumps and ridges, providing more sting per square inch than any other object known to man.
The ball was then handed to one of the privileged few chosen to stand outside the circle. The atmosphere would suddenly shift inside the circle as children would begin to push and make their way behind the fattest of the students. This was always a safe bet from escaping the initial shame of being pelted out first. This would also be the time that the teachers would begin to place their side bets on the outcome of the match. The over-under was always stacked in favor of the kids with ADHD (but then, we didn’t know what that was back then; they were called “difficult children”).
Then, the dreaded ball of death would be let loose. There would be a mad scramble as the once placid individuals inside the circle would now claw and topple any in their way all to get away from that dreadful red menace. This would then be repeated over and over until the one event that would end the “game”. Somehow, it would always end the same way. There was always one girl who didn’t speak much English and had completely no idea as to what the hell was happening. She would always be wearing that same pretty blue dress and those white shear leggings on the days that we “played” dodge ball. Sure enough as I sit here, she would remain, by some act of God, unscathed until the end. Then, as she was targeted for termination, she would jump way too soon as the ball bore down on her, landing right on top of it as she came down. She would then fall, tearing her leggings, scarring herself emotionally and physically and soiling the pretty blue dress. The “game” would then be ended, usually by the teacher who was going to loose the bet, despite the lack of a true winner.
Another of the extreme sports we played as children was “smear the queer” (I don’t make up the names, I just reiterate them). Now, this game consisted of slapping a ball against a wall. But there was a twist. If you were ever unlucky enough to have the ball hit you, other than with your hand as you slapped it back toward the wall, then you had to make a mad scramble for the wall before the ball touched it again. If you were too slow and the ball reached its goal before you, you then were under obligation to get your ass beat by everyone else playing. You could, if you were bold enough, try the Adam Corolla defense and run straight at the other players instead of at the wall and attempt to confuse them for a split second. The next few minutes would then resemble the ending of a Benny Hill episode. You would, however, end up getting your ass beat regardless.
The final extreme activity that I remember as a child would be the nefarious “chicken fights”. Now, these were commonly played in a pool, but a bold few of us would play on grass and sometimes even asphalt, the latter of which would most certainly end in some sort of tragedy or another. This game would consist of sitting on someone else’s shoulders and then pummeling another stacked opponent until only one pair was left standing. I could never figure out why it was called chicken fights until I saw two chickens trying to mate: one would precariously perch atop the other and desperately try to hang on and finish the reproductive act. Anyway, many a bloody nose and scraped elbow was the result of this game… possibly a few broken forearms as well.
I’m sure there were many others that I never got a chance to play, and I scoff at the “extreme sports” of today as I recall the ritualistic torture we placed ourselves in day after day. If only the young of today could share in the torture… Wait, I see that the kids are outside playing street hockey in the road. I wonder if I could interest them in a friendly game of tackle asphalt football.