Gym class at Abbot Pennings High School involved a variety of sports. Mr. Minten would usually take us through several classes worth of each activity, baseball, basketball, touch football and various other pursuits. However, in between sessions, or on special occasions (or perhaps when Mr. Minten didn't feel like trying to get us organized) he would declare that this day would be "Murder Ball!" Murder Ball is more or less the same as Dodgeball, but at Abbot Pennings, the venue and the projectiles made it unique.
The Pennings Gym was small, but it contained an abbreviated basketball court. The top of the key nearly touched the center circle. The baselines were touching the brick wall, and there were pillars along the side. This picture from a 1982 pickup basketball game gives a nice overview and reminds us how short athletic shorts used to be.
The very features that limited its use for basketball only added to it's charm for Murder Ball. The centerline divided the court in half. One for each team, and you could not cross into the opponents territory. Out of bounds was where you went when you were hit, so you could not hide behind a pillar if you were in play. The brick walls provided some ricochet, so if you avoided the mat, even a miss might bounce back to your team for another try.
But the true genius of Mr. Minten's version of Murder Ball was the balls that he provided for this game. The number was 3, but each one was unique, and it was critical to know where they were at all times throughout the game. First, we have your standard red bouncy ball, standard for "4 Square" and other schoolyard games. It was soft and bouncy, difficult to throw, but easy to catch. It was not very accurate, and didn't hurt at all if it hit you. Then we had the fuzzy volleyball, standard size, but covered with yellow fuzz like a tennis ball. It was a little more challenging than the bouncy ball, but nothing to fear.
The final ball, the coup de grace, was the tiny white volleyball. It was so small, so cute, one could hardly imagine the destruction it could render in the hands of a Pennings athlete. It was about the size of a softball, almost as hard, but lighter. It had the seams of a volleyball, but it was slick and very hard to catch. The best bet was to dodge it and hope it ended up on your side of the court, but it would often bounce back off the bricks into the hands of the enemy. A cruel, but favorite, tactic was to acquire the bouncy ball and the little volleyball on your side. One team member would throw an easy shot with the bouncy ball. As the unsuspecting opponent was lining up for an easy catch, he would be drilled with the white volleyball.
Strategy, tactics, agility and pain: All were found in a spirited game of Murder Ball at Abbot Pennings.
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