I grew up in a small country town. I mean a really small town-it was almost too small to be called a town. It had a feed mill, a lumber yard/hardware store, and a gas station, all in a row, surrounded by a light sprinkling of houses. And those were surrounded by farms. So I went to school with healthy, robust country kids. Strong, big, athletic, tough, tough damn kids. We played hard. The girls in my school played tougher, rougher, better football than the surrounding towns’ high school teams, without padding. Those kids ate their Wheaties.
Me? Um, not so robust. I was definitely not made for sports. I didn’t have the strength of my tough peers, and I couldn’t run very fast (which is not a good thing if you are also a smart ass. I usually couldn’t outrun those I pissed off.) I was small. I mean, I was really small. I hated being small (which I now think is sad.) Sports were just not my thing. The only one I didn’t hate was floor hockey. I rather enjoyed it because I had a stick and there were a lot of shins in there, belonging to the kids I disliked. What I lacked in athletic aptitude, I made up for with aggression. But mostly, I hated sports.
There was one game we played that I absolutely hated more than all the other sports and games combined. And we played it a lot. It was called Killer Ball. We were split into two teams, one at each end of the gymnasium. The balls were set out on the center line. The teacher would blow the whistle, and everyone raced to the center of the gym to get a ball. The object of the game was to hit members of the other team (without going over the center line) until they were all “out.” So of course the biggest, fastest and strongest kids got to the center line first, and gathered up the ammunition before the rest of us had a chance. There are a couple important facts you need to know before we go on. 1.) Being a small country school with multiple grades per classroom up to grade 9 meant there was a wide range of age and size of kids playing. 2.) We did not use the soft little foam balls kids use today; we used fully inflated, rock hard volleyballs. 3.) The gymnasium, just like the school, was quite small, so when those big guys stood on the line and fired that ball, it would hit the cinder block wall sounding like a gunshot. (A boy will always put all his energy and strength into throwing the ball as hard as he possibly can. The risk of knocking out a little kid or even blowing a nut in the process is less detrimental than looking like a wuss.)
That game scared the absolute shit out of me, and the times when those balls hit the wall inches from my head, there would be a terrifying moment where I’d fear that this was also the case literally. I’d be paralyzed with fear (of death or humiliation-one is as bad as the other for an adolescent) then wait a moment before moving again until I was sure I hadn’t crapped my little Adidas shorts. My coping strategy? Turtling. (Microsoft Word does not accept this as a word, but I assure you it is. It’s a defense technique utilized in a state of terror where, as all your innards drop into your lowest nether regions, your shoulders pull up to your ears, your chin hunkers into your chest and your arms wrap around your head while you are screaming and swearing.)
A few years later I saw an image of what I always pictured would happen if one of those volleyballs didn’t miss my head. It was in a movie I saw at the drive in theater when I was in high school, called “Deadly Friend.” There was a scene where the psycho-zombie-teen-aged-girl-robot got revenge on the mean old lady on the block who stole her friends’ basketball. The psycho-zombie-teenage-girl-robot threw the basketball at the old lady’s head and it exploded on the wall. Her head, that is, not the ball. Well shit, I jumped in my seat and pointed at the screen where this decapitated lady was flopping around and her head was just a big splash on the wall (gotta thank Wes Craven. The movie sucked hugely, but that scene was probably one of the best gross-but-funny murder scenes of the day) and I yelled, “That’s it! That’s It! That is the shit I pictured happening to my head when we played that stupid game! And that declaration, of course, would have been peppered with profanity. It’s the way we talked when we were 17 ‘cause it was cool. And badass. It also got much, much worse when we were drunk, which everyone usually was at the drive in theater. Drive ins were awesome.
So back to killer ball. Maybe somebody got smart somewhere between then and now, and went to the school board with a convincing argument involving a scenario with a 30 lb 4th grader, a cinder block wall, and a grade 8 boy throwing a rock hard volley ball. I don’t know. They use foam balls now.