Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I can't think of anything much worse than 6,084 young people playing dodgeball at the same time.  The picture above, taken by LA Times photographer Don Bartletti, shows how it looked on the field on Wednesday, September 26 of this year.  The participants were all UC Irvine students and they had a good reason for doing it.  They were trying to set a world record for the most people to play dodgeball at one time. 

Nevertheless, when I looked at the photograph my eye zeroed in on a fellow I seemed to remember from my childhood, and I had to work hard to suppress a shudder.  Considering that my childhood ended about in 1950, my flashback certainly had to break some unknown record too -- perhaps a time-travel type thing that somehow made me immediately recognize that awful little boy on the Frances E. Willard Elementary School playground who picked me out as the child most likely to cry if hit by a highly inflated, swiftly thrown dodgeball -- and tried to set his own record for accuracy.

I picked him out of the mass of students above and am quite sure that this is he:
His stance is the same, his strongest arm is setting up for the throw, and it's obvious that whoever doesn't dodge in the right direction will end up with a stinging smack that will raise a welt and cause tears to jump out of one's eyes, unbidden.

I HATED dodgeball as a kid.  I was thought to have a heart problem when I was young and was not allowed to participate in energetic games such as volley ball, softball, tennis and so forth.  But for some reason teachers believed that dodge ball was ok.  We didn't play that game at recess but only at the times when we went outdoors for our class' Phys Ed period.  The boys would form a big circle and the girls would stand in the center.  One boy was given a ball and of course the object was to throw it so it would hit one of the girls, who then was "out."  The teachers told the boys not to throw hard enough to hurt us, and perhaps most of the girls didn't consider getting smacked by the ball all that painful.  But I was a little, scrawny, shy kid and possibly had a sign on my back that said "Kick Me," because no matter how I tried, I always ended up with red welts on my arms and legs.  And I tried awfully hard not to cry.

It wasn't bullying, per se.  I was not picked on, but I felt like I was.  To be honest with you, none of the girls much liked the game, but some were physically much bigger than me and when it came their time to throw the ball at the boys, they acquitted themselves admirably.  I avoided ever trying to catch the ball and throw it back at the boys, because I wasn't very good at throwing anything. 

I suppose I could have complained to my mother and she might have been able to get me excused from the Phys Ed time, too, and instead be allowed to sit on the bench and watch.  But I already felt like I was the odd kid because there was so much I wasn't able to do because of my heart problems.  So I just kept quiet about it and tried to make myself small and mousy and insignificant, so as not to draw attention to myself.

Until I saw the picture of the dodge ball game at UCI, I really hadn't thought about it in a long time.  But when my eye picked out that fellow getting ready to throw the ball, the memory of that awful time in elementary school when I had to face one of my classmates with his legs in a stablizing stance, an inflated dodgeball in his hand and his arm pulled back to send it flying to smack me with as much force as he could played out in my mind again, I have to admit feeling very sorry for that little girl... who was me.

1 comment:

Olga said...

I was reminded of a former student who was quite fragile in the physical sense. His mother always made a large point about how he was not, under any circumstances, to be allowed to play kick ball. Guess what he wanted to do more than anything?