Deep impact on the racquetball court
Roy shouted, “Teddy, wall ball! Everyone’s going,” and rushed away.Ninety boys and 60 girls had converged at Monarch Mountain for a slalom race on the most difficult course of the season. Most stayed at the funky old wooden Monarch Mountain Lodge, and what they may remember best were the protracted “wall ball” games in the racquetball court.Within the court were some 20 boys, aged 8 to 14, densely packed yet moving and wheeling, a small speeding blue ball among them. Great roars of “Ohhhh!” arose when anyone was hit, which was every few seconds.I am amazed that anyone would want to play this game.”Isn’t it only about hitting?” I asked Teddy, 13.”Yup!” he said cheerfully. “At least the way we play it.”But I can also never quite believe boy energy. The preschool educator, Mark Ross, once told me consolingly, “You have to remember, it is literally harder for little boys to walk than to run.” The boys, having skied all day, played wall ball for hours before and after dinner. One, Ben, darted around in his blue long underwear, not having wasted a minute arriving.From the walkway and glass panes above, I watched transfixed, as if at a zoo.A man who wandered near said, “Oh, are they playing wall ball? We used to play that, but I wouldn’t have thought it was allowed today. Because you get hurt. It’s not very politically correct. And it’s so much fun.”I couldn’t make out the rules at first, or ever, though Roy, 10, assured me in some indignation, “Mom, there are so many rules.”The basic theme is throwing the racquetball ball (hard) against the far wall, from whence everyone tries to catch it, with more credit for catching before than after it bounces. As penalty for fumbling or simply being strafed, kids constantly line up against the far wall while others whale the ball at them.”I got pegged so many times,” Roy would say brightly afterward. He added, “We tried to really nail kids from other ski teams.”Whenever Tyler, age 8, was up against the wall, he faced it execution-style, feet apart and hands locked behind his neck. Some targets always peered around to see the missiles coming. One boy, Miles, nobly covered the littlest ones with his own body during lineups.Kids were hit in the head, back, thigh, calf. One 14-year-old target twitched his skinny butt tauntingly, only to earn a direct hit upon it.The hits hurt, and sometimes boys pulled up their shirts to display the red spots.One coach, Rohan, joined the melee, wearing a backwards baseball hat. Teddy clocked it in the brim, lifting it off Rohan’s head, to a round of high fives and “bumps.”The boys argued rules nonstop. I heard Roy tell a friend, with no trace of hesitation, “You’re cheating!” The friend, perhaps not exactly wanting to go to the wall and be hit, had demurred as to whether a ball had hit him.One girl briefly ventured into the fray the first night, and two girls the next night. Teddy’s only comment was, “I nailed Hannah right in the elbow.”On the second night, some actual racquetball players, young men with real gear and wearing shorts and the right shoes, looked down into the court uncertainly. Then one bearing the authority of size, the longest hair, and an AC/DC T-shirt entered and said, “Management said we could tell you to leave if you’ve been here for a long time.” Surprisingly, the boys filed quietly out.They immediately pounded off shouting down the hallway, along which harried staff had that day taped “Quiet!” signs for the benefit of regular customers.Next to me, my acquaintance said, “I bet management comes and kicks these guys out. Just to put all of them” – he pointed with his thumb – “back in there.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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