Saturday, February 11, 2006

Handball.

1980-82: Of all the sports we used to play at recess, Handball was definitely the most competitive. Played with a big, bouncy, red textured ball, it seemed like a simple schoolyard game, but there was a lot of strategy involved. There were actually names for the different moves one could utilize to outwit his or her opponent, and the allowance and/or prohibition of these moves would be called out in the beginning of the round (usually when recess started). I wonder if elementary school kids today still use the same names. In my day, they were as follows:



Slicies: Named for the "slicing" razor-thin route of the ball in this maneuver, this was the most difficult and challenging move which involved timing the hit precisely so that the ball literally skimmed the surface yet still achieved the mandatory single bounce before hitting the wall. Imagine a pebble skipping swiftly across the surface of a pond. It was a ruthless high-speed move that usually meant instant death to the opponent, unless he/she was prepared for it. They were extremely hard to negotiate and/or return—the ideal Slicies would have the ball skimming as little as two inches above ground. In my 5th-6th Grade class I had two classmates who had this move nailed.



Over the Rainbows: So called for the wide rainbow-like arc trajectory of the ball, these were the power moves, which involved pure strength. A player would smash his fist into the ball with all his might (sometimes using a double-handed swing for extra umph), preferably at close range to the wall, to send the ball bouncing off the wall flying high and wide, way past the court's painted limit lines. Very difficult to return unless you predicted it and was far down the court to begin with. There were rare lucky ones who were able to run out there to meet the ball, sometimes giving it a blind over the shoulder swing and having it bounce back into the court/wall. Usually, though, Over the Rainbows meant brutal and swift defeat, especially to the girls, most of whom were reluctant to play handball with the boys anyways and didn't try very hard. There was some kinda etiquette with the boys though when it came to this move—normally they wouldn't do Over the Rainbows on girls unless they wanted a quick kill to get to some rival kid that was up next.



Cross-countries: These were equally crafty yet not so difficult to achieve. Cross countries were shots that had the ball travelling across the court as it bounced against the wall. The more acute the angle, the more difficult it was to return. Usually these shots were in slower speed and in close proximity to the wall. The best cross countries had the ball nearly bouncing parallel to the wall, barely skimming the surface to count. You had to hear that ball skin audibly scrub that wall for it to count, I guess.



Tea Parties or Bouncies: I think this was a rule made up by the girls to make handball a more dainty and less-competitive cut-throat sport as the boys took it. Oh lord, when girls got together and played with these rules, the games would last forever. It became like a social thing where the ball bounced so light and carefree that they had enough time to talk about kittens and puppies and horsies between bounces. Heh, hence the title Tea Parties, since that's what the game became.

Anyways. Tea Parties or Bouncies were when someone could set the ball up for an extra bounce before having to hit it to the wall. These worked especially well against Cross Countries and Over the Rainbows, in which one usually didn't have enough time to get in the optimal position to return the ball. With Bouncies you could just tap the ball and let it bounce one more time before you hit it. This used to get the biggest grumbles from the boys, since it totally slowed the pace of the game and defeated the whole cut-throat competitive feel. But sometimes the teacher used to make Bouncies mandatory so that everyone could participate without feeling intimidated by the toughest players.

As stated before, usually these moves were called out in the beginning of the game, by name. Funny, sometimes girls would object to the rules but the boys almost always overrode or ignored their complaints. Here's a sample snippet from a typical 5th-6th grade game:

Tom: (holding the ball, in position) ...Ok! There's cross countries, over the rainbows and slicies.

Natalie: Wait! Aw man, no slicies!

Gina: Yeah! No slicies! Those are too hard! (followed by agreeing hub-bub by other girls)

Peter: What? No way! Yes slicies!

Natalie: Well ok, slicies but then no Over the Rainbows.

Tom: No Over the Rainbows? Then it's too easy! C'mon let's just play, geez.

Natalie: Tsk. Then I'm not playing. C'mon Gina... (they go hand in hand to talk about horsies and kittens, or start their own Tea-Time game on another court)

Peter: Awriiight! Cool, no more girls. Let's go!


Not all the girls were so dainty and intimidated by the boys. There were a couple of girls (one whom I had a huge crush on, btw) who put up their dukes when it came to handball and weren't easily defeated. But all in all, handball was dominated by the ones who could pull off Slicies, Over The Rainbows and Cross-Countries with deadly finesse.

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