I grew up in New York City in the 1960’s where the sports curriculum at P. S. 19 on 12th Street and First Avenue consisted of punchball with a pinkie (that’s a Spaulding pink ball) and in the earlier grades, we played dodgeball with a giant red rubber ball. Where I lived on 12th Street, we also played other “gender-neutral” sports such as boxball or King. The game was similar to handball, but played in a “box” equivalent to the squares on a sidewalk (one person to a square) against the side of a building. Oh. There was also stoopball where you’d toss the ball at the stairs on the stoop and count the number of bounces into the street before catching it as bases.
Bottle caps was another favorite that also used the concept of a sidewalk square as the boundaries for where we pushed the bottle cap with a flick of our fingers to different points on the square while attempting to dislodge our opponents’ bottle caps. The secret to the game was in how much the bottle cap was weighted. Serious aficionados would burn candle wax into a favorite bottle cap or two and kept them stuffed in a jeans pocket just in case. This latter was mostly a boy’s game, but girls were always welcome to play.
The ubiquitous New York City street game was stickball. Played in the street and based on baseball, the bat was a mop or broom handle and the ball was a pinkie. This particular game was not as popular as others on my block as we had the luxury of a schoolyard across the street where we actually had room to play some version of a “proper” baseball, though it never really seemed to take off.
I bring all of this up having read the New York Times piece on the push to bring sumo wrestling and women’s sumo wrestling at that to the Olympics. Along side women’s boxing which has already been given the nod by the Olympic Committee, the inclusion of these two traditionally male “combat” sports would represent an extraordinary turn of events in Olympic history, never mind in our conception of the meaning of sport.
Back on 12th Street, even boxing was a remote sports tradition, but given how fair we all were with each other when it came to the games we did play, I think we wouldn’t have minded giving sumo wrestling a go, though it’d have to have involved a pinkie.