Ah, the sound, feel of rubber hitting flesh!

    “Let’s get that fat guy in the middle.” Splat! Right in the gut! “Now, Fluoride looks like he needs a whacking.” Thunk! Ah, the sound and feel of rubber smacking human flesh!
     Sweating like stuffed hogs, a large number of us filled the mini-gym at Immaculate Conception School to engage in an exciting and exhausting activity.

     The pastime, which one doesn’t see much anymore because it apparently became politically incorrect, is, naturally, dodgeball.
     In our youth, if one of us came across a fuzzy, stringy baseball, we’d play with it and have a ball–literally. Nowadays, kids have to ask, “Where are the instructions?”
     Dodgeball, a throwback from the fifties or earlier and forbidden in many school districts, resurrected because of a new movie by the same name. In the fifties, our practice was to select the biggest, toughest boys in the school–at our school that usually involved someone with the last name of Fram or Abreu–to hurl a partially inflated ball at a horde of kids in the middle, dancing, swaying and weaving to avoid being hit.
     Under one set of rules, those who got hit were out. Period. We joined the sidelines or went to Mass.
     One variation was simply that those hit by the ball traded places with those on the outside.
     Still another version specified that as players in the middle got hit, they joined the group throwing the ball, increasing the numbers of throwers. The nimblest person, the best able to dodge the ball, became the winner, and all of us stuck around to see how long it would take to nail the winner.
     There we saw some highly skillful maneuvers. Rather than simply making every toss an attempt to hit the player, some throwers would heave the ball way over the dodger’s head, to be caught by a teammate on the other side who would nail the unsuspecting dodger. Or, the throwers would execute a play in which the ball flew from player to player on the same side of the gym, volleyball style, until one of them could line up a shot that would eliminate someone.
     Dodgeball was more exciting than outside playground activities because in order to play we needed at least two walls. The bad acoustics created a noisy atmosphere, which made the excitement more palpable for the participants.
     Anyone who aimed at someone’s head would be disqualified, and anyone hit on the head for whatever reason was allowed a second turn.
     When I participated, I always tried to be one of the four throwers (two on each side of the gym). Throwing a soccer ball at a crowd of wall-to-wall participants was easy. It was the same feeling as “breaking” in a game of billiards: when a cue ball smacks 10 balls, some are bound to go into the pockets.
     The joy of dodgeball was the simplicity of the rules and the lack of quarreling over whether a person got hit or not. Another advantage was the totally co-educational nature of the activity. All our games included girls (or maybe all the girls allowed us boys to play), and we felt good that we were able to keep up with them.
     To be sure, we injected our share of razzing and name-calling, all with the Church’s imprimatur. I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about his or her dodgeball moniker. Some of the nicknames have endured.
     I was known as “Fluoride,” for reasons that had nothing to do with additives to the water supply; rather, I was one of few students in junior high who wore glasses. Others–I could tell by the way they kept getting hit by the ball–needed glasses too, but because of vanity or some other reason, never wore them. You see, “Fluoride” sounds like “Four Eyes,” . . . well, you get the idea.
     Dodgeball is better than baseball in which a player may go seven innings without ever touching the ball or needing to run. Even football has only about six minutes of real action. Dodgeball’s energy quotient is more like basketball, in which all 10 players run up and down the court dozens of times, even if Kobe Bryant is a teammate and passes off only to himself. In addition to including large numbers of players, dodgeball is always moving because those in the middle never know whom the throwers are aiming for; therefore, all assume they’re the targets and need to be alert. We’d get home each day energized by perhaps an hour of vigorous activity. Wouldn’t it be great if “Dodgeball,” the movie were to create a sustained interest in this inexpensive, simple game? It’d be a lot better than having kids playing similar action games–on a computer or a GameBoy.

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