On Friday October 13th, my son turned 10 years old. Of course we missed out on a huge opportunity by not having him born 3 years earlier and him becoming a Jason, Freddy or Pinhead.
Regardless, since I am free during the days for a few more days, I was tasked with going to Panda Express to get him some Orange Chicken and some cold Dr. Pepper and eat lunch with him.
As I sat there waiting for him at the tiny lunch table bench, I learned what it is like to be a famous person, or at least a really tall NBA player. I got a lot of stares. Stares like, “What is he doing here?”, “Did he get held back from college?”, or “Why is this really tall 6th grader in our lunch period?”
Finally, he came and made me sit with him and his weirdo friends. The whole lunch room sang happy birthday and he hid under the table. He didn’t finish his chicken because he was too busy, not eating it.
I was invited to go outside for recess to be with his posse of friends to play football. It’s been a long time since I was able to go to a recess, so I figured things had changed a little. I thought I knew how football was played, as I have watched some games in my life before. What I witnessed was not football. Other than there being an actual football, and someone being called a quarterback, nothing else I saw resembled football. I just saw chaos.
Some kid had the ball and just chucked it up. A thousand kids tried to catch it, and then a million new kids appeared. I don’t know what they put in the water at recess, but it seems like kids just start growing out of the ground. My son had enough of playing football, because of the thousands of new kids growing on each new play, so we decided to go play four square.
I don’t know if you guys played this game growing up, but it also didn’t resemble anything that I remember as a kid. I remember a game where there were four squares. A, B, C, and D. The king (or queen) was in the A square and they served. I remember a competitive game in which vicious hits, spinny’s, and dangerous spikes were involved. Only the strong, crafty, clever and athletic survived.
Legends were made and broken on the concrete jungle of four square. Rivalries were born. Famous athletes were forged, groupies were formed, and high fives were treasured. There was high stakes gambling of Pringles. There were NCAA basketball style brackets involved. It was the highest, most popular sport in the land of recess. Nothing could compare to a battle of a ball, some hands a square and 15 minutes of prime time. Rumor had it that NBC and CBS were fighting over the television rights.
At their recess, I was appalled. What I witnessed was no Four Square. That was just a bunch of friends hold hands, singing Kumbaya, and being nice and friendly to each other. What happened to Four Square?
How did the landscape of this amazing recess only game go from cutthroat to relaxing in a boat? How did it go from competition to ho hum petition?
Someday there will be a documentary on the highs and lows of four square. I guarantee you, the glory days will be the third grade of Horace Mann Elementary school, when Four Square was king, and Bitter Ben was one of many kings of the concrete. And the fall will probably be precipitous after that. The low point will Friday, October 13th where I spent 10 minutes playing pass the ball gently to your other 4 Square partners.
I jumped in and tried to inject some life into these sleepy 4th graders and remind them that four square isn’t a kid’s game. I didn’t hold the ball, I spiked it. I didn’t gently place the ball in someone’s little section, I slammed it in their little corner. I scraped and clawed and slammed my way from back of the line to the supreme A king in a matter of minutes. I left 4th graders in my very significant dust.
Perhaps my short time in this game will punch life back into this game. Perhaps some ambitious 4th grader will be infused with the life I put back into that one game and carry the mantle back into the game. Perhaps we will look back on Friday, October 13th and say that was the day that we took back foursquare.
We mat never know, but we can only hope that some day we can bring the fire back to the square.
Bitter Four Square Champ Ben