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Segway Polo

Question: What do you call a junkyard sport that requires each player to have a machine that costs $4000, an additional $300 worth of athletic equipment? Answer: Segway Polo.

It seems, doesn't it, to defy almost everything we've come to know and love about Junkyard Sports. There's no recycling or reuse here, and it's a far cry from free, or even, for the most of us, affordable. And yet, because it's still new, for the most part unofficial (though well-produced, clearly-written, intelligently-illustrated, suggested rules are available), and played mainly for the sheer fun of it, it is most worthy of our attention and applause.

  • more photos

  • Seqway Polo, the movie.
  • Skully

    You can think of it as a billiards game for flat marbles, or maybe something remarkably similar to Carroms or perhaps even the ever-popular Crokinole, but you'd only be kidding yourself. Skully is very much a game in its own right, a street game, played mostly in Brooklyn, very much lovingly documented by my colleagues and friends and co-appreciaters of all things junkish at Streetplay. They explain:
    "Skully (a.k.a. skelly, skilsies, skelsies) was one of the most popular street games in the New York City area, and it is still played today, though not as widespread. It is typically played on the street using bottlecaps on a board drawn with chalk. Anywhere from 2 to 6 (or more) players can play. Each neighborhood has its own variations on the rules, but the basic theme is to use your fingers to shoot your piece (a bottlecap, poker chip, or other small item) through the course drawn on the street, then "kill" all the other players, leaving you the winner."
    What makes Skully so different from any of the games that it is like, is that it is in spirit and practice a junkyard sport. All the "official" bits are hand made, out of junk like bottle caps and wax and streets and sidewalks and other flat things.

    See also Sidney Kurtz's wonderful descriptions and drawings of Philadelphia street games in The way we played.


    I found the following description of Pilla-Dex in the "Evolutionary History of Table Tennis" collection housed virtually in the vast depository of the Table Tennis Museum:"In 1896 this game, and an American counterpart Pillow-Dex, used a cord to divide the length of the table, the players then using their hands to bat a balloon to and fro. Other variants of Tennis motif games were card games and Tiddledy Winks played on a miniature felt court with a small net." I found further, but not much more informative description of the game in the Jaeger Tennis Heritage Collection.

    For the junkyard sport, as I sometimes view myself, this is all positively inspirational. Batting a balloon to and fro on a cord-divided table is in its very essence as potentially amusing and skill-development-encouraging a pastime as anything that we have come to know as ping pong or table tennis or even Tiddledy Wink Tennis (yes, Tiddledy - for more on the pre-eminently junkyardworthy origins of Tiddling, see Rick Tucker's "Tiddlywinks: The Classic Victorian Pastime: On Target for the 21st Century"). See also Steve Child's Junkyard Sports Hall of Fame-worthy description of Pong Ping and Geof Englis' similarly enlightenuping Eraser Bouncing.


    It's a Gee-Haw-Whammy-Diddle" is what it is (a.k.a. Ouija Windmill and Hooey Stick). A folk toy (and sometimes musical instrument) that is easy enough to make and fun enough to play with and, for those who are in the know, an opportunity to cause significant mystification amongst the uninitiated. Say "hooey" and behold, the propeller spins to the left. Say "hooey" again, and again behold, now it spins to the right. Go ahead, speak to it. Cajole, nay, even beg it. See if you, too, can make it change direction.

    I know, this really isn't a classic junkyard sport. But it is of the same spirit. And, in fact, one could argue that the more traditionally junkyard sports like stickball and halfball are both artlike and folkish. Junkyard sports, folk toys, all for fun and fun for all.

    For more on American folk toys, see my favorite: Dick Schnacke's American Folk Toys: How To Make Them

    Arena Ball

    Currently featured on the previously reviewed and extolled Homemade Sports, the sport of Arena Ball doth stir the junkly soul.

    Arena Ball requires only:
    1 SuperBall®
    1 large cardboard box (around 18"w x 18"h x 18"d)
    2 medium cardboard boxes (around 9"w x 16"h x 18"d)
    1 very small cardboard box (around 4"w x 4"h x 6"d)
    1 Nerf® football
    2 or 3 garbage bags full of clothes
    and a large open space within which to bounce.

    "Arena Ball," the inventors explain, "was created by Lloyd Morris and his business partner. They moved into a new office that had an attached warehouse space. Their goal was to use the warehouse to house machinery, but when they first moved in to the office, the warehouse was empty. Not wanting the room to go to waste, the duo set up some cardboard boxes, found a SuperBall®, and the rest is Arena Ball history."

    Arena Ball is yet another testimony to the spirit of play and the phenomenon of junkyard sports. The inspiration - an empty warehouse. The junk: a superball, cardboard boxes, garbage bags, and a nerf football. The spirit - perhaps most clearly exemplified by the Sporking rule:

    "Each player gets to use one 'Spork' during the game. This is a defensive tactic used to stop another player from winning. For example, it is Player One's turn, and he/she has 14 points. Player Two wants to Spork him to try and stop him from winning. Before Player One throws the ball Player Two yells 'Spork!' Player Two then grabs the Spork (Nerf football) and goes to the Spork Area...After Player Two is in the Spork Area, Player One throws the ball. Player Two then tries to hit the ball with the Spork. If Player Two hits the ball away, it is a successful Spork."

    Spork on, Lloyd Morris and business partner, spork on.

    Extreme Recycling, cont'd

    A while ago, I wrote a piece about a fellow who made musical instruments out match sticks. I recently heard from his son, Tony Hall, and was delighted to learn that he has documented more of the Jack Hall Story.
    "Jack must by nature have been one of our first conservationists because he noted the large number of matchsticks discarded by his shipmates. With no handicraft experience and certainly no books of instructions he experimented with shaping and gluing them together and produced an acceptable dart-box to keep his darts.

    "Spurred on with this initial success and egged on by his shipmates he took on the challenge to build a musical instrument out of matchsticks. The lads wanted something someone could knock a tune out of.

    "One of the crew jokingly said, 'Why don’t you make a fiddle and strike up a tune?'

    "This was a challenge Jack could not resist, and next time ashore he went into a second-hand shop where a Violin was on display. With no carpentry skills and no knowledge of instrument making, he studied the weight and feel of the fiddle and wrote down a few simple sketches and measurements. Then, went back to the Eastwick to begin his self-imposed task."

    The more I learn about this man, the more amazed I am at the power of play. Making instruments is hard enough. But making them out of matchsticks. For the sheer challenge of it all. But I was in fact the most deeply touched by his son, and his dedication to his father's memory and work. It's testimony, in deed, to a man, to his skill, but most of all to the spirit that moved him.

    Superbowl Halftime Tabletop Shuffleboard Carroms M&M Football

    I just received an anonymous commission to design a game that would be suitable for Superbowl Sunday halftime break. Actually, it wasn't so much a commission as a request. And it was from my son.

    Be that as it may (now that I think of it, how else could that be, maywise?), here's my thought:

    Start out with 22 M&Ms of two different colors. Eleven, of course, of each, color-wise. And a popped popcorn kernel. And clearly demarcated section of table or floor. Create goal posts at either end of the playing field - a straw, for example, balanced on the tops of two glasses.

    The offense kicks the football (a.k.a. popped popcorn kernel) downfield by means of a finger-flick, as one might finger-flick a carrom. Players on either team then take turns, shuffle-sliding their assigned M&Ms in the manner of tabletop shovelboard (a.k.a. shuffleboard). That is, one touches the top of one's M&M with one's finger, and then imparts momentum to one's M&M in the desired direction. Obviously, one must not keep one's finger on one's M&M.

    Players on the receiving team attempt to shuffle their M&M into the erstwhile football, in the hopes of striking it in such a way as to cause it to move towards the opponent's goal. Players may shuffle their M&M into another M&M or into the football itself. One shuffle per turn.

    As soon as the football is struck by an M&M belonging to the offense, the ball is considered downed. As in traditional football, teams then position their M&Ms in scrimmage-like fashion, and the game continues, pretty much as abovementioned. Kicking or passing the football is accomplished by direct flick. Moving the football, however, can only be achieved by means of the M&M shuffle.

    The game ends just as halftime is drawing to a close. The losing team gets eaten.

    Wheelbarrow Freestyle

    It was the turn of the century. A few enterprising Englishmen gather to create a new X-game - one requiring as much grace and death-defiance as skateboarding, and yet, because of certain cultural stigma and the apparent refusal of major sporting chains to carry the required equipment, doomed to a short, but spectacular existence. They called it: "Wheelbarrow Freestyle." Yes, yes, the very concept of a sport based on wheelbarrowing of any sort is, at best, difficult to entertain as X-worthy. And yet, as these gentlemen show, with practice and devotion, it can reach the very extremities of X-ness.

    For example, there's the "Pop Jump (with optional Fly-over)" where you "Sit with your barrow for a moment, check your mood, become calm. Feel your barrow's mood - encourage it. Hold the barrow gentle and loosely in both hands. Keep hold of the handles but push the barrow away from you for full arms length - KEEP HOLDING ON - then quickly and sharply, before the barrow knows what's happening, pull back and push down ever so slightly. The front of the barrow will now flick up. To retain height lift the back end up to meet the front and thrust forward to hold it even longer."

    As silly as it may seem - and as silly as I often am - to me, Wheelbarrow Freestyle epitomizes the spirit of junkyard sports. It manages to embrace silliness and seriousness so closely together that it becomes something very much like a paradigm for the Playful Path.

    Cooperative Games in Physical Education - in Spanish

    If you can read Spanish, please take a look at this PDF file.

    I've been in touch with the author for a while now, and he even included a review of Junkyard Sports in the publication. From the images and the few words I was able to undersand, this publication (from Mexico), is enough to give me hope for the future of physical education - at least in Spanish-speaking countries.


    Always inspired by stories of how a new sport gets invented, I found this recounting of the history of Pickleball both informative and inspiring.

    It turns out that Pickles was a dog. Here's some snippets:

    "The game started on an asphalt badminton court.. But, alas, no one could find the shuttlecock. The dads quickly improvised with a Wiffle-type ball. The kids found it difficult to hit the 3-inch ball with the lightweight rackets. Once again, necessity was the mother of invention. The dads made wooden rackets that resembled ping-pong paddles. As the game evolved through the afternoon it was determined that players could hit the ball on the bounce as well as out of the air.

    ...“Pickles, the Pritchard’s cocker spaniel took an interest in the new game, particularly the ball. When he could get away with it, Pickles would fetch the ball and hide in the bushes. He wasn’t the most popular dog at the party, but he did get the game named after him."

    The authors go on to explain that "Pickleball has three unique attributes that you won’t find in any other racquet sport: the serve position, the double-bounce rule and the no-volley zone.

    "Serve position - You put one foot in, you keep one foot out, you keep one foot in an…you serve the ball. An inconvenient tree in the Pritchard’s yard made it necessary for one side to serve with one foot inside the court...

    "Double-bounce rule - In the early days (literally like the first two days pickleball was played) the server had a huge advantage. The player receiving the serve would have to wait for the ball to bounce. The server, meanwhile, could be in position for a quick return off the volley. The three founding fathers added the double bounce rule to take this advantage away. Now, the receiving team and the server must both hit their first shots off the bounce. After that, the ball can be volleyed.

    "No-volley Zone - To make pickleball a game of finesse and strategy rather than just raw power the first dads instituted a no-volley zone in the seven feet on either side of the net. Within this zone, the ball must bounce before it is hit."

    This is a great depiction of the process of developing a new sport. The only part of it that saddens me is that despite all the fun people had inventing the game, they inevitably come to the conculsion that the process had to stop, the rules written and formalized, and made "official."

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