The coming of spring has many implications. Most people embrace the warmer months with the hope of reclaiming the outdoors with their favorite activities.
The dawn of April brings with it a host of seasonal opportunities; playing catch, riding bikes, throwing a football or a beanbag or just relaxing in the warm air. Sure, I’ll be happy to bury my ice brush for a few months and hit a few long balls on the diamond, but there is one game that has been eating away at my patience since the first snowfall.
For me, spring means the start of Spikeball season.
Spikeball is at an interesting point on its’ ascension to prominence. It might be easier to find a teenager who has scored perfect on their ACT than one who can’t associate a yellow rubber ball with a tightly strung circular net in Chicagoland. Yet on numerous occasions when I have mentioned the game to my brother Scott, a well-connected Windy City lifer in his twenties, I’ve been met with mild confusion and a complete lack of knowledge as to what Spikeball was. Since I’m running under the assumption that most or all of our other staff and their friends who read Poor Scholars are in the same boat, I’ll include a video before I go any further.
The video doesn’t show Spikeball being played at a high level, for some of that go here or here. The basics, however, are covered in essence. Teams of two compete against one another by playing a ball off of a net on the ground in the hopes of launching it to a place where the other team (working together) cannot return the ball to the net in three volleys. If a team fails to play the ball off of the net legally, the other team gets a point and the serve, which is initiated by lobbing the ball off of the net to start a rally. Play continues until a team reaches 21 or any other agreed upon score and a team must win by two, similar to any other game that involves scoring. Spikeball has been described as a marriage between volleyball and four-square, but I hate that definition; it makes the game sound lame. If anything, Spikeball is the cool, rebellious offspring of two conventional parents that has spent his entire life convincing people that he has never been a part of their system. President Chris Ruder’s creation has much more to offer the player than either of its’ plodding or juvenile predecessors.
My personal experience with Spikeball began a couple of years ago, and after playing at a friend’s house for the first time the appeal clicked instantly. However, we all have friends who have a preset disposition to reject anything that isn’t familiar. It’s a trait that should have seemingly dissolved in the early stages of youth, yet these personality types exist in virtually all social groups and demand our consideration. Something about Spikeball seems to deactivate a person’s stubborn switch, because I’ve never heard a negative comment from anyone after jumping, slamming and diving their way to 21.
Perhaps the verbs I used are a bit strong to describe a first time player, because another intriguing characteristic of the sport is that all players seemingly start at about the same level. There are, of course, experienced players who grow to become better than others, but I have yet to play with a first timer that doesn’t spend their first few games mistakenly driving the ball into the ground short of the net or forgetting to make use of their teammate. We all start out at a similarly low-level in Spikeball, and yet anyone who plays is left hungry to improve. This past summer, I upgraded my sales pitch to first time players to include a satisfaction guarantee — a guarantee which admittedly only holds my reputation culpable and it hasn’t failed me yet. The only other thing that has earned a similar vote of confidence is selling first timers on filling out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament. Between the two, I’ve had trouble deciding which promise is the safer to make.
The cherry on top of the sundae for us here at Poor Scholars is that Ruder is a Chicago native and has predictably been able to stimulate the most growth in his own backyard. There should be a satisfactory (because there can never be enough) number of tournaments held along the beaches of Lake Michigan this summer, with countless others being held on other sandy or grassy surfaces across the country. And if a Spikeball event becomes anything more competitive than a meeting of friends to pass the time, you can bet that Chris Ruder will be trying and carve out a place in his schedule to come and see his labor of love put to good use.
Perhaps my fondest memory playing Spikeball was taking part in a local tournament run by college students last May. About an hour into the action, a man walked over to watch the action, camera in hand, giant Spikeball flags draped under each arm and with energetic toddlers flanking both sides. I later found out that the guest was in fact Ruder, who also came bearing free Spikeball sets for the winners (which retail at$50) and boxes full of other apparel, completely of his own accord. Despite going 1-2 on the day and getting our asses handed to us in both losses, my teammate and I walked away with a wealth of positive experiences and over $20 worth of free Spikeball gear.
The most important thing I got from that day was a desire to return the next year, more polished and ready to make some noise in the Spikeball community. Even if I was the worst player in the world or knew that I would never get my hands on any more memorabilia, I’d feel the same way.
Like I said, Spikeball is that kind of game.