Linus apparently played kickball for the first time ever this week in his gym class. I advised him to call for the Slow and Bouncy next time he played.
I loved playing kickball when I was in grade school gym class. Our school, Carl Lundgren Elementary, had the largest gym of any grade school in Topeka. Nobody knows why, but it did. The far walls made for a kind of Fenway Park-type feel, except instead of the Green Monster, we had the Pink Monster. That’s right, they painted the walls of our gym pink for about three years, because of the theory that the color pink would sedate us during our lunch time. Seriously, that’s what they told us. Other Pipeline People were there and can bear witness to these events. Testify!
The first kickball we ever used in gym class was a semi-deflated volleyball. That was our gym teacher Mr. Frownfelter’s idea, and it worked well other than the fact that it would sting bare skin if you caught a real screamer, which always happened at least once a game to somebody, sometimes even Mr. Frownfelter. It was what you would call a live ball. Power kickers flourished.
Then, the Nerf company released their first Nerf Soccer Ball when I was in fourth or fifth grade. Mr. Frownfelter rolled it out to us one day to our immense curiosity. It was different; softer on the bare skin, perhaps, but heavy, too. It would knock the wind out of you if you didn’t protect your gut on a hard kick.
Most of all, it was a dead ball. You just couldn’t elevate it enough to carry to the Pink Monster…or so we thought. One morning I made my Slow and Bouncy call and Frownfelter grooved one right down the middle. The rest, as they say, is history. Sadly though, that was the pinnacle of my kickball career, and I was considered a has-been by the sixth grade. But now my son can avenge me.
In case you were wondering, as I was, when kickball was invented, history is not definitive. Some say it was the Romans who invented kickball. Some say it wasn’t. Others say kickball was invented by Allied Army troops during the North African campaign of 1942-1943. Still others say kickball was invented in the Carl Lundgren Elementary gym sometime in 1980. Learn the real answer here.
In fact, inspired by that bit of history, I’ve started a movie script about a Victory-style kickball game between the Germans and the Australian 9th Division, victims of the siege at Tobruk. Rommel leads the bad guys, Leslie Morshead the good guys.
This particular scene begins with the opening roll of the climactic final match. It’s dawn, and the faraway dunes appear to have a blazing orange fire deep within them as the low sun emerges. The exhortations of the crowd, a caterwaul of drunken, leathery Germans and Aussies, echo off the shifting sands. Seventeen camels are lined up nose-to-tail in a semi-circle to form an outfield fence. The camera zooms in close to Morshead as he stands alone with the ball in the middle of the infield, his sweaty brow furrowed with determination as the first rays of the sun cross his face.
Standing in the kicker’s box is German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox. After taking a large swig of beer out of his boot (Rommel was a barefoot kicker), Rommel digs in. Morshead toes the rubber, discards his freshly emptied Foster’s can, and cocks his arm to deliver the opening roll.
Suddenly, Rommel explodes out of his kicking crouch, waving his arms and screaming “Nein! Nein! Ich bin’s blitzkrieg kraut Slow and Bouncy! Achtung, baby!”
Morshead, incensed at Rommel’s use of the word “baby”, takes a couple steps off the roller’s mound towards Rommel and says “Crikey, mate. I reckon you want it to bounce like a wallaby!” Then Morshead hurls the ball at Rommel, who deftly pulls out his Luger and shoots the ball in mid-air. The deflated ball flies many feet away and lands at the feet of a goat, who begins to eat it.
Morshead, aghast at no longer having the ball that was used by his men to invent this wonderful game of kickball, the ball that would forever allow him to be known as the Abner Doubleday of Kickball, goes quite literally insane with rage. He screams the horrible scream of a man who has had his ball taken away, whose two sexual moments in the last 18 months were both with camels. His hands outstretched, Morshead is across the sand and perilously close to gripping Rommel’s neck before any of the stupefied spectators can respond.
But Rommel is too fast. He has been holding a fistful of sand since he stepped into the box, just in case he needed to blind a fielder trying to make a play as he ran the bases. But current events dictate a more prudent use, and Rommel unleashes a desert campaign right into Morshead’s eyes.
“Aaaaaaaaaagggggghhhhhh, mate!”, cries Morshead as he falls to his knees. “My eyes!” Some blokes nearby douse his eyes with Foster’s to wash out the sand, but when he finally regains his vision he sees the German tanks rolling off into the desert. It was over. The Germans had found a way out of defeat yet again, but more important, the Allied North Africa corps lost its only ball in the process.
Sir Leslie Morshead would die in 1959, supposedly of cancer. But those who were there that day remember the deafening echo of Rommel’s Luger, the sickening thud of the deflated ball as it hit the sun-baked desert, and the soft bray of the goat who then dined on it, and know that was when Sir Leslie Morshead was mortally wounded.