I don’t exactly remember when I quit playing outside…oh wait, that’s right, when I got my Nintendo…but even then I remember long summer days outside with friends running all over the neighborhood having water balloon fights, playing Wiffle ball, roller blading and once the sun went down, it was night tag. All of these games were a lot of fun and are still played by kids today, but there are also a few games that have been lost to time for one reason or another.
Okay, I can’t say for sure that this time honored game has been lost but I do know I haven’t seen many hopscotch courses on the sidewalks lately. Frankly, hopscotch never made much sense to me. You draw your squares and then you hop. Not very hard. When I played hopscotch with friends we tried to turn it into a real game. I grew up with a giant driveway so my friends and I had all the hopscotch real estate we could ask for and we took advantage of it.
Our hopscotch courses were more like obstacle courses than a few numbered squares. We applied the same rules but we drew more challenging outlines that included lava pits, giant spikes, wild animals and the always popular pendulum battle axe. Our landing zones were often far apart and small making the one-footed jump alone the challenge. If I remember correctly, we even had a point system setup for successful landings and certain zones, it was quite elaborate.
So maybe that’s what is missing from classic hopscotch – the game. Where’s the fun? Where’s the excitement…the drama…anyone can throw a rock and pick it up. Trying doing it from five yards away over a pit of snakes.
A popular recess game, tetherball was another game that never made sense to me. It was a ball on a rope hooked to a pole. I think I failed to see the “game” in it and none of my classmates really knew how to play tetherball so we always improvised, creating our own rules which meant no one really knew what the heck was going on. Unlike hopscotch, tetherball couldn’t be saved by creating new rules.
Tetherball might have made sense when a ball on a pole was high tech but by the time I was in elementary school, we had better ideas. The only thing tetherball was used for then was torture. My one clear memory of tetherball involved a kid in the grade ahead of me getting his hand wrapped up in the rope against the pole. This poor kid was just hanging from the pole crying for help with his arm getting squeezed by the rope. Ouch.
Red Rover, Red Rover
Speaking of pain, Red Rover is another summer game that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Red Rover was invented on the school playground but made its way to the backyards of America with gusto. And much like tetherball, Red Rover was a simple game that made sense once upon a time but by the mid-80s was a guaranteed bruising. Red Rover was more or less banned from the schoolyard but my friends and I didn’t let that stop us as we took Red Rover to a new level at home. I admit, Red Rover was a brutal game, but that was the point. On one side, you had a line of kids all holding hands. On the other side you had a kid run full tilt at the line in attempts to break through their arms. What could go wrong?
There is, of course, a correct way to play the game but around my neighborhood Red Rover quickly turned into something not unlike a WWF main event. We all came up with ways to both break through the outstretched arms of our friendly opponents and also get around them. Some tried flips, others dives and some just relied on brute force and speed…none of which worked very well. I don’t recall any broken bones playing Red Rover, but there were plenty of bloody noses and scraped knees. Actually, maybe Red Rover is better lost to time, but then again, you have to build up your tolerance to pain somehow, right?
With every summer comes new fads and the Roller Racer was no exception. I never had a Roller Racer but they were so cool! Part roller skate, part Sit-N-Spin, the Roller Racer was a toy that confused as much as it delighted. The first time I tried a Roller Racer I didn’t go anywhere. I just sat there trying to figure it out (probably swearing), eventually just using my feet to scoot along. Naturally, I thought the Roller Racer was a piece of crap, but once you figured it out, it couldn’t be beat. The Roller Racer was a near perfect balance of rewarding challenge, exercise, and speed. When you got good on the Roller Racer you felt awesome, like you just solved an ancient riddle, and if you could do tricks with a Roller Racer it was even more special. Of course, tricks on a Roller Racer basically meant being able to go backwards and do a 180 but hey, a trick is a trick.
The Roller Racer didn’t last long, probably due to its confusing method of motion, but I don’t see it being any different than the wiggle skateboards I see kids riding down my street on today. Their fun will pass just like the Roller Racer did. I might look for Roller Racer to make a comeback eventually, everything else does…and this time Roller Racer would most certainly be a “new and fun” way to exercise and burn off all that video game weight.
Otherwise know as lawn darts, Jarts is another game kids of today will never know because of the so-called “danger” involved. Out of the box, Jarts isn’t much different than horseshoes; Opposing teams stand 10 yards apart and attempt to toss aerodynamically enhanced spikes into a ring on the ground. Okay, so Jarts was little more than throwing tiny javelins, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t fun and couldn’t be enjoyed properly. I am happy to report that none of my friends got hurt playing Jarts despite us doing our usual thing by turning a simple backyard game into something a bit more epic.
My friends and I did away with the teams and turned Jarts into a solo competition, each of us getting points depending on how close we got to the rings. We usually had several rings in the yard, each with different point values depending on their distance away from us. I know that doesn’t sound too special but consider that the rings were in the next door neighbor’s backyard with a tiny obstacle in-between…and that obstacle was the garage (or the house). Yes, we blindly threw mini spears over the roof hoping to land near the point rings. Of course, none of us were stupid enough to stand in the landing zone, which is apparently more than I can say for some kids because thanks to them, Jarts got banned in pretty much all of North America by the 1990s.
Get out there and play!
You may have noticed a pattern here. Most of these classic summer games haven’t been seen in 20 years due to their lack of safety. However, I’d like to go on record by saying that I never got hurt playing any of these games, nor did my friends (except that tetherball kid, but he wasn’t really a friend). Games are only as dangerous as kids make them, and…well…my friends and I did our part to up the risk factors, and while that was most stupid of us, I look back at those years with much fondness. Kids today will probably never experience many of the summer games I enjoyed, but I like to think that children are still doing their best to “improve” on the games of summer.
Want some more summer activity suggestions? Try these out: