When was the last time you saw kids playing games in the street or in their playgrounds? You know, the games we used to play all day long.
You might see them play skate hockey now, or maybe touch football and baseball; but what about all those other games you remember seeing in the street, empty lots, and playgrounds?
Remember Punchball or Handball? It was played with baseball rules except you punched the ball with your hand as you stepped up to the plate. Some kids punched with a sidearm motion and some punched with an overhand swing like a tennis player.
Kickball was very similar to Handball, except your foot was the propelling agent for the run around the bases. Many is the time we played this in the driveways between two family houses.
Can you close your eyes and remember the bigger kids playing Buck-Buck or “Johnnie on the Pony?” This was one of my favorites. It was played against the playground school wall. One kid served as the pillow and then one team of kids formed a line composed of their bent over backs stretching back from the pillow. Teams had about 8 guys each including the pillow man. Each bent over person would lock their arm around the leg of the kid in front of them, forming this tight line. The opposing team, one at a time, would run and jump on the bent backs of the other team. The team with the bent backs had to hold the other opposing team members up to win. If they did, then they could change places and do their own jumping. If the team with the bent backs failed to hold the other team up, they had to endure the same fate again.
When was the last time you saw a brisk game of empty lot baseball? I lived for this in my old neighborhood. We played ball from 9 in the morning to 9 at night. The game never ended. People changed to have lunch or dinner, but that old dirt stadium on the corner of 5th Street and 2nd Avenue was always in play. The billboards in the back were the stands. No one ever complained of the noise. It was better to see the kids playing and having fun than getting into mischief. Met my best friend Lou there. What a blast we had! Always got the girls to come to that noisy corner. An apartment building sits on that lot now.
Boxball, anyone remember that? Played just like baseball, only a square was drawn in the street between the curbs and you could not hit the ball on a fly out of the box. A pitcher bounce-served the ball up to each hitter who punched the ball in an attempt to get a hit and on base. Played that mostly on 3rd Street and 7th Street where the street was level and not too much traffic. The trick with boxball was to lay out the field with first base leading up someone’s driveway so you could overrun the base without tripping over the curb.
On the dead end at 3rd Street, down from Ting-a-Ling’s, we actually painted lines in the street one night and created a football field of asphalt. We played Touch Football there for several years. Periodically the City Subway cars would pass by, clanging bells or tooting horns. Some of the neighbors even sat out to watch. When they put new lights on the street poles and increased the available light, we even played night games.
At night, during the summer, we would play Ringalerio or Gorilla which was basically two teams trying to capture and convert the captures to the opposing side. You never knew who was really on your side, which certainly added a real element of surprise. For really scary episodes we played in the outskirts of Branch Brook Park near Bloomfield Avenue just as it started getting dark –hiding in trees and bushes to leap out and grab each other. Scared the hell out of you, but what fun.
Red Rover, Red Rover…..we call Tommy over! Remember that? Your team held clasped hands and arms outstretched as your team captain called over to someone on the opposing team to take a running leap and try and break the chain of arms. If he failed, he was converted to your team; if he succeeded, his team got to lock arms and call your team members over.
We also played a schoolyard game called “Three Flies Up”, where one team threw the ball against a big wall and opposing team members tried to catch it. It was like baseball again, but if the other team missed the ball and depending upon where on the ground it fell, you got a single, double, triple or home run. We had a variation of this called Stoopball where you bounced the ball against the front stairs to a house instead of a high wall.
I almost forgot Hopscotch. You would draw the diagram on the sidewalk usually with a piece of chalk or coal and then play would begin. Some kids preferred using an old shoe heel for their piece, and some made their own piece out of a rock or piece of wood.
Hide and Seek was the old favorite in my neighborhood, best played near dusk. We had lots of nooks and crannies to hide in, and some even hid under things like trucks, and front porch steps; in big hedges and bushes; and inside garages. Sometimes we would lose kids for days.
Toss up was another strange one. Here you tossed a ball high in the air and called someone’s name. The named person would run to catch the falling ball while the others ran away. When the ball was caught, the catcher would yell freeze, and all runners would stop. If the catcher could hit someone with the ball, that someone now had a point against them. The catcher then threw the ball in the air, called a name and the game went on like before. If someone got hit with the ball 3 times, they were eliminated.
I probably forgot others, but you get the drift by now. How could you be bored in neighborhoods where each family had 3-4 kids and the street was always filled with games. We had so many kids we used to organize teams that played each other from different streets. There was fun just outside your front door. There was no one from my group of friends who got in trouble with the police, or did destructive things. We were too busy playing ball or other games.
Maybe we should teach these games to our grandchildren?
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