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Earth Ball: A catastrophic hippie sport
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March 05, 2013, 12:23 PM
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Danger: Earth Ball!

It`s hard to invent new sports. The 1960s were a period of creativity in some fields, but seem lacking in team sports. The most ostentatiously 1960s team sport was Earth Ball, which was invented to be a coed, not very competitive game that emphasized teamwork and appreciation for ecology. A very light six-foot diameter ball with a map of the world on it is propelled by tapping with the fingertips by coed teams of any number across the opposing team`s goal line. 

Since the ball floated in the air and only slowly descends, players had to look up and tap it.  In theory, this game sounds like the opposite of football. In practice, well ...

I first saw a picture of Earth Ball being played on a recruiting brochure from the Air Force Academy in 1975. Colorado Springs wanted to denote that that they were the with-it academy, so the brochure emphasized that each year the freshmen played the sophomores in the exciting new sport of Earth Ball. But looking at the photo, I noticed that all the freshmen were looking up in the air at the giant ball, while all the sophomores (having more experience playing Earth Ball) were ignoring the ball and instead punching the freshmen in the gut or kneeing them in the groin.

I could see how that would be the better strategy.

I`ve only seen Earth Ball played once, at Rice U. in about 1977 in a dorm v. dorm mass melee. I would have played but I had a cold so I staked out a good viewing spot on the 50 yard line. 

The referee put the huge ball on the midfield stripe as two vast teams assembled on their own goal lines. When the ref blew his whistle, most of the 100 or so competitors ran at 3/4th speed toward midfield, but three guys from the opposing team dashed headlong toward the ball, along with one fellow from my dorm, Stu. 

Stu sprinted toward the ball to give his team the advantage. When he was ten feet away, he longjumped chest first into the ball. Unfortunately, he impacted it just as the three other sprinters slammed into the opposite side of the ball. The ball compressed, then flung poor Stu backwards about 15 feet through the air. Stu landed awkwardly just as a mob of him teammates clomped down the field and trampled him, leaving him in considerable pain. It was the closest thing I`ve seen to a Chuck Jones cartoon in real life. 

Within a few minutes of brutal play, a pretty girl named Velma Potash had her clavicle broken and had to be taken to the hospital. 

I left at that point. I learned later that the game was finally won by the other team. They eventually figured out to have the 6`11" backup center on the college basketball team, Doug Ekeroth, tap the ball to himself as he jogged down the field while his most bruising comrades formed a 360 degree wall of blockers around him to keep anybody from my dorm from suckerpunching him while he concentrated on tapping the ball.

Earth Ball did not become a regular event on the Rice calendar.

That was the last I`d heard of Earth Ball. Searching Youtube, I find one video of some East Asians playing it. It looks like the big innovation is to play it volleyball style, with a rope separating the two teams so they can`t brutalize each other. Looks like it`s become a fun game for middle-aged people, but how do you store the ball?