Talk about a
power serve. Steve Hinman aced me with a heave that cleared the net by at least
15 feet, causing me to lose the ball for a moment in the ceiling lights, and it
crashed at my feet like a sack of concrete mix. The floor shivered. I thought,
"The only way to practice for this guy is to have someone drop watermelons
to me from a freeway overpass."
A minute later,
at deuce, a strong volley by Hinman caught one of my team-mates off-balance and
sent him reeling off the court. But it was quickly back to deuce when a topspin
return, aimed right at me, hit the net and threatened to snap off the aluminum
standards at the floor.
grinned. "You know something? I think we've rediscovered a great
For the record,
the first semisanctioned Hoover Rules medicine ball match since the Depression
was played at The Athletic Club of Overland Park ( Kans.) on the morning of May
12, 1987. Hinman, the club's director, captained a three-man house team. I, by
virtue of having what may be the only copy of the game's rules outside the
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in West Branch, Iowa, led the
The Rosetta stone
of medicine ball (or "mediball," as we call it) is a 56-year-old
magazine article entitled The President Watches His Waistline, by one Will
Irwin, who is identified as a "celebrated author and intimate friend of
President Hoover." In his article, Irwin succinctly states the rules for
mediball. The game is played on a court 66' X 30' and scored exactly like lawn
tennis, with these exceptions: 1) There are no rackets; 2) A six-or eight-pound
medicine ball replaces the tennis ball; 3) The game is played over an
eight-foot volleyball net; 4) The ball must be caught on the fly and instantly
thrown back over the net.
and muffs count points for the other side; clean placements for your own
side," Irwin wrote. "A ball returned from within your own service line
must be returned beyond your opponent's service line [much more about this
humdinger later]. As played on the White House grounds, it is always 'doubles'
or 'triples'—never a 'singles' game."
also includes this "word of caution": "The men who play medicine
ball at the White House are all vigorous and sound.... This is no game for
middle-aged men with organic flaws...."
It took but a few
warm-up tosses with our eight-pound ball to prove the veracity of that
statement. "Holy mackerel, those guys must have been animals!" said
Hovorka, straining to reach the opposite service line with a two-handed chest
shot. Because he was one of three players on the court who could bench-press
more than 300 pounds, those of us with gray hair and incipient "organic
flaws" began to wonder if the game was even playable. Fortunately, Hovorka
discovered that the ball could be launched 40 or so feet with a two-handed
hammer-throw-spin technique, and we all adopted that shot as the equivalent of
the forehand drive.
As we began to
play, it soon became obvious that medicine ball is not so much about throwing
as it is about catching. Hand catches were difficult on all but the softest
tosses. We had to develop ways to break the momentum of the ball, either by
catching it sideways and using the arms to give with the leathery weight or by
moving square up to the ball's flight path and boxing it against the body with
strength and quickness and concentration," says Larry Schwartz, the club's
athletic director. "You concentrate so hard on simply catching the ball you
can't think about where you want to throw it."