Spring is here! And along with the tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses, our plastic balls and bats have colored the landscape once again. (Yes, I know the Minnesotans play Johnball all winter long, but they’re a hardier bunch aren’t they?)
It was last year that Will Bird, co-creator of the game, suggested we try Johnball. He had actually been saying it for weeks, but I wasn’t really listening.I didn’t quite understand what Johnball was until he invited a few of our friends to come play it. We were clumsy at first. I remember there was a lot of accidental bat/face contact. But no one seemed to mind! And a week later we played again, with an even bigger group. And again, and again.
I was honestly surprised so many of our friends took interest in Johnball. I myself was never very athletic, and I could probably finish a book before I could ever finish a race. I prefer intellectual pursuits, as do many of my friends. I spent the first few Johnball games fraught with self-consciousness. I was a slow runner, I always seemed to be the first one sitting out, and my teams always lost. But no one seemed to notice. People still wanted me on their team. And if anyone else felt self-conscious, they sure didn’t show it. All I saw was pure enthusiasm. And I realized very quickly that, yes this is corny, but there are no losers in Johnball. And that’s one of the reasons I play it.
I hated team sports as a kid. I was always getting yelled at, either by the coach or by my peers. “Stop staring at the ground,” they were always saying, or the classic “Don’t be afraid of the ball!” while rock-hard baseballs whizzed past my tender head. Gym class was the worst. Everyone took it so seriously, as if we were soldiers in some war, and we would all die if we didn’t score that precious GOAL! This was the main reason I hated sports. But Johnball is different. I’d say it’s not a sport, but that’s not true either. It’s definitely a sport. There are points, there are teams (sometimes), and rules (sometimes!) It has all the exercise of a sport with none of the seriousness. We use pink bouncy balls for God’s sake.
I’m sure it looks pretty silly- not that we care. But as silly as it looks, it’s an incredible outlet. I went years without having sports or even exercise in my life. I had no confidence in that area, nor did I see its importance. Johnball helped me release all of my pent-up energy, even some aggression. I actually think aggression is healthy in small doses. It helps release stress and clear the mind. And that’s another reason I play Johnball.
I bet you can guess the final reason I play Johnball. It’s the reason I played at all to begin with, and it’s the reason we always get new players. It’s the reason I HAD to play Johnball on my birthday. Friendship. My friends invite their friends, who in turn invite their friends. And then we all become friends because we love Johnball. Last summer we spent the most amount of time playing it, because we had so much free time. We would play for hours, often late at night. We played in the rain a couple of times, and once during a bad thunder storm. (I hate using the word ‘epic’, but Johnball during a thunder storm is the best possible use of this word.) I don’t know how other leagues operate, but the Pittsburgh league can get rowdy and we like it that way (within reason). There was booze and sometimes water balloons. After our games, exhausted, we would sit on the field just smoking and talking late into the night. We made new friends, and grew closer to the old ones.
If you’ve never played it before, you won’t really understand why we get so excited about Johnball. Sometimes people on the street stop and ask us what we’re doing. But they never ask us WHY we play it. They wouldn’t need to read this essay to find out- they can see it in our faces. Johnball is creative, carefree, liberating, yet unifying.
I can’t wait to play it all damn summer.
Did you know that we recently compromised our morals and enrolled in the Twitter mob? Join forces with @PlayJohnball if you’d like just a bit more Johnball in yo’ life. We promise we’re not obnoxious– just a bit childlike from time to time.
The average American has an eighth grade reading level.
Raise the bar by reading the following: