Tag Archives: dodgeball

At the gym

At the gym

When I hear the word gym, I always think of my old public school gym.  Built in the late 1950’s, it had painted cinderblock walls the most putrid green color one could possibly think of, enormous caged light fixtures and big windows that lined the top of the walls where they met the ceiling because the gym was located in the basement.

Considering just how big the gyms were, NYC public schools did not do much by way of sports when I went to school in the 1960’s.  In the winter months, we played newcomb and a variation of punch ball using a giant red rubber ball.  Or we’d just play catch with it.  We’d also play a variation of dodgeball where our entire class of 35+ kids would stand in a giant circle and throw the ball at each other *without* trying to knock each other down.   I can assure you that it didn’t work very well and someone inevitably got hit in the face.

Gyms also make me think of the Y, PAL, Boys and Girls clubs, and different Settlement Houses around the city where kids could go to play sports.  There was something very friendly about those places.  Everyone one wore gray or navy blue sweats and instead of running shoes, tennis shoes or basketball shoes, kids wore sneakers.

Later when the health club craze hit, the character of gyms seemed to change.  The large cavernous spaces became smaller and tighter and at the same time less about camaraderie and sports and more about individual achievement and beauty.  I know that I am over simplifying here, but the truth is, I always feel like an outsider walking into a health club.  The spaces always seem overly crowded with equipment and people not to mention music pounding so loud my ears hurt.  Perhaps too, my conception of sports comes into play — the idea being that it is hard for me push and pull machines or run to nowhere watching CNN or the Real Housewives of New Jersey without some other purpose that revolves around sports.

When I finally found my way into a boxing gym — I got some of that old feeling back of when I was a kid.  A space where people were engaged in an activity, but with a real sense that every aspect of the training is for some purpose — and importantly, that everyone is rooting for you no matter what your skill level.  Goodness knows that some boxing gyms are as funky as they come while others have borrowed a bit from the health club concept and have clean spaces and new equipment.  Still the feeling is welcoming and fun:  a place more about the work than anything else and that can be a pretty inspiring thing.

Sumo wrestling

Sumo wrestling

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.

Article link: