7 May 2009

"Down serve!"



Mark X's revelations about his childhood game Death Square on the post a couple further down brought back to me another playground game we had at school which was concocted out of both necessity and accident, and became very popular.

Our secondary school playground was a very large concreted area made up of equal-sized squares. The borders were obvious and had weeds sticking through them. A huge number of kids needed to use the play area, due to a) there being just one play area for second years to fifth; b) our enormous playing fields were ridiculously out of bounds at breaktimes; and c) we were something like the fifth largest comp in the country, in both size and intake and so proper ball games, with proper balls, were banned.

The exemption we were given was Squares. It was a game played with a tennis ball and required dexterous hands. Ideally it featured two or four players but could conceivably be played by as many kids as there were squares on the playground. It was essentially tennis without racquets or a net, and those of us who rather enjoyed it took it very seriously, creating rules (some sensible, some designed to play to our strengths). The basics were that you slapped the ball to your opponent and, in traditional tennis format, only a single bounce or straight volley was allowed. You could hit the ball to any contender you wished. No points were given in a game of more than two players, it was straight elimination until a winner emerged, and that winner would be the server for the next game.

The adolescent rules we made up in the little group I was with included:

Down Serve - this was an "illegal" serve by which you had played the ball in too downward a direction, giving your opponent an unsporting chance of getting it back. You needed to retake your serve.
Line - if the ball struck the line (sometimes obvious as the square borders could make it shoot in a wild direction, sometimes less obvious and provoking argument) then the ball was returned to the server and the point replayed, irrespective of how long it had been going on.
Out - straightforward; hit the ball out and you exited the game.
Straight At - you were not permitted to strike the ball evidently at the face or body of an opponent in a way as to not give him a fair chance of making a shot, although this rule was ignored if the opponent managed to avoid the ball entirely and it went out of play, thereby eliminating you. Ha!

I remember at one point there being such an argument among my group over the rules, that one lad turned up at lunchtime to our game with a booklet he had written covering the laws of the game. As dim and terrible as this sounds, we all signed it and agreed to abide by them. Oh dear.

We had a primary school version of this called Four Square, which we like to think at least partially inspired the cheap game show hosted by former Hallam FM voiceover man John Sachs. This time, on a plain playground, the four squares were painted on, with a tiny quadrant in the corner of one indicating a serving position. The four kids taking part would play the same "bash ball with hand rules" except that it had to go to the person clockwise to you, irrespective of where the ball had landed in your square, and if you failed you were out.

The remaining three kids shuffled round one square, and the empty one was filled by the child at the front of the inordinately long queue of kids waiting to take part. You would duly go to the back of this queue which, during 15 minute breaktimes (10.30am-10.45am and 2.30pm-2.45pm at our primary) often meant you never got another go before the whistle went. How we played this game successfully I don't know, as it was generally done with footballs rather than tennis balls. Have you seen the size of a nine year old's hands, for Cliff's sake?

1 comment:

Beetwaste said...

We once spent a happy break throwing a black tennis ball from one side of the playground to the other, the kids from Ferens house on one side and from Johnson house on the other.

It wasn't particularly exciting, except that I'd brought a very heavy, dense, black rubber dog chew-ball which was exactly the same size and colour as the tennis ball. We swapped them, and the look of pain, anguish and utter confusion when the other kid tried to head what he thought was aa tennis ball will live in my memory for a very long time to come...