Al Batt: I’m thankful dodgeball didn’t involve a Challenger, Charger, Diplomat or Dart

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, July 4, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I woke up with a start in the middle of the night. It wasn’t the cat coughing up a hairball the size of Idaho. What terrors interrupted my sleep? As a farm boy, it was usually the thought I’d forgotten to turn the water off in the barn or to close a gate and the cattle had either drowned or traveled to Abilene. This torment was the memories of dodgeball from back when the Dead Sea was still alive. I could hear the ball hitting Rodney squarely in his face. He staggered back before sliding sideways to the floor, turned into gravy by an angry ball with teeth.

Al Batt

Dodgeball! Many years had been stacked in uneven piles since I’d last played dodgeball.

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Some schools had gym class; we had phy ed (phys ed) class because we were an advanced school academically and needed more letters. There was a rumor, which remains unsubstantiated, that several bright bulbs in my class knew that phy ed was short for physical education. They were the ones who always forgot proper clothing or shoes for phy ed. They’d heard a little exercise never hurt anyone, but they weren’t about to take a chance.

We didn’t know what the girls did during phy ed class, but we knew they had one. Both the boys and the girls had phy ed classes in the big gym. It was called the big gym because it was bigger than the smaller gym, which incredibly, was called the little gym. I wanted to see what the girls were doing even if they weren’t doing anything, but the gym had a movable wall that slid across the floor. It was a participation dividing the gym. There was a door in the middle, but if a boy opened it a crack to take a harmless peek, the girls’ teacher unleashed a severe scolding followed by realistic threats. I don’t know what the girls did in phy ed. It was top secret, hush-hush stuff.

We were in the big gym with Big Jim. Jim Clark was our health\phy ed teacher. He was a wonderful guy called Mr. Clark or Coach Clark. I’m sure he had lesson plans for his phy ed class, but you know what happens to the best-laid plans of mice and men, they gang aft agley. He became a college baseball coach and when he retired from that, he was elected county commissioner. He was big on fire drills, in which I learned what steps to take if there was a fire — big ones.

Every phy ed class evolved quickly into dodgeball. We used every ball except a baseball. For that, I’m thankful. Dodgeball worked in a class of boys who had an inherent and irrational need to throw something at something else.

Dodgeball was a modern-day stoning and an early exercise in the hunger games. The five rules of dodgeball were: 1. Dodge 2. Catch C. Throw. 4. Duck E. Dodge.

Defense was played by yelling, “Don’t hit me!” If there had been cheerleaders there, and it’s a pity there weren’t, they’d have been expressing vocal energy by taunting opponents with chants like, “In your face!”

The lone survivor on the losing side was typically a skinny kid whose nerves were frayed and who’d hidden behind a bruiser known as the Chrysler Imperial of dodgeball. The Chrysler Imperial was banned from demolition derbies because it was too tough. A demolition derby is dodgeball for cars. Once the tough Chrysler Imperial of dodgeball was eliminated by a ball grazing his shoulder-length nose hair, his sole remaining teammate, who had been lying in wait in his shadow, had lost his cloak of invisibility and was slaughtered mercilessly by the other team. A King’s X wasn’t allowed.

I wonder if kids in Dodge City, Kansas, majored in dodgeball in college? I realize dodgeball taught me that life would throw things at me and sometimes it would hurt. I wasn’t as good at dodgeball as I shoulda coulda woulda been. It had been difficult to dodge a fastball while my mind was wondering what was happening on the other side of that impenetrable wall.

If Ronald Reagan had been our class rascal, he’d have said, “Tear down this wall!”

Al Batt’s column appears in the Tribune every Wednesday.