Every inside recess throughout the 70’s was battle ball and outside recess was football, kick ball, softball and a some other games with totally politically incorrect names like , “smear the queer” and another equally politically incorrect game called “ black man.” Smear the queer, which was a tackle football game was renamed” throwback” and then eventually banned from most playgrounds because it involved tackling. Now it might be banned from many playgrounds because it involved, “gasp” running which is now, believe it or not, not allowed at many schools. Although the name seems totally politically incorrect now I don’t think any of us thought of the game in terms of the modern usage of “queer.” Black Man, a tag game became Green Giant probably because chasing after a black man recalled bad things in history and the new name was okay because there were no green giants still around at the re-naming to take offense. Finally Red Rover Red Rover never changed its name because apparently it is or was okay to freely denigrate wandering communists.
Perhaps the most maligned politically incorrect game which is now hardly ever played anywhere was the very-popular dodge ball/ battle ball. At first it was usually played with the red playground balls of various sizes which in the interest of safety eventually gave way to only small red playground balls and then Nerf balls and finally has been generally banned altogether because it has been deemed too violent and more importantly because it offends our current educational and societal fetish about games having no winners and no losers which is one more illustration of the fact that our schools are not always based in reality.
Our middle school gymnasium(read battle ball arena) when I started teaching was the old type that many of you will remember. It came complete with 10 rows of fixed wooden bleachers on each side with the basketball court sideline running close enough to the first row that you had to keep your feet tucked in to keep them off the floor. And in at least one case during that era I can remember a gym that had a pop machine in the corner of the gym with the basketball court sideline cut out around it. Our gym also came complete with the four doors to the hall and outside on one end and a small stage at the other. The stage had the ubiquitous heavy always old-looking and moth-eaten maroon velvet curtains backed with water stained canvas that over the years had stretched to the point that they made a puddle of cloth on the floor under the bottom edge. Above the stage there were racks of lights of which only one or two still worked and above the gym large hanging incandescent bulbs enclosed in wire cages. Above the bleachers was a row of wired windows one of which was almost always broken and replaced by plywood.
One day while on recess duty in that gym overseeing a battle ball game I was standing at least 5 rows off the court in the old wooden bleachers. I was blindsided by an 18 inch red playground ball thrown with the zeal of a true believer nailing me on the side of the face. Totally unexpected, it knocked me over and the gym fell totally silent as I cautiously felt for my face, which I found was still there and unfortunately not magically beautified by the impact. So with a forced smile and the knowledge that anyone who threw the ball that hard was unlikely to have had that bad an aim I rolled the ball to a kid that usually didn’t get too many chances and play continued. I narrowed it down fairly quickly to Curt and Eric based on body language, the space that magically opened up around them after the incident and the eyes of other students, but till this day I don’t know who took their best shot and failed.
I say they failed because I had by then learned that undirected anger or general non-targeted punishment by guesswork or for revenge may produce short term pleasure but in the long run is one of the greatest enemies of a school teacher.
Oh and by the way one of my original two suspects is now a teacher who, if his memory serves him correctly, has a head on a swivel during any recess involving balls.