You know how it goes. Rain outside or a meringue of dirty slush. You're overweight. If you inhale deeply twice, bright sparks dance across your retinas. Jogging ranks with an amputation for sheer fun. The health club charges enough to pay off George Foreman's alimony. The kids are restless. You want to do something. Move. Run. Sweat. Make imaginary over-the-head catches, cross body blocks. Go one-on-one with your own shadow. Anything.
Now you can. Indoors. At any hour. Without expensive equipment. Without beheading your wife's Tiffany lamp. Exercise. Strong competition. A challenge for anyone eight years and up: feetball.
This is how it all came about. A Saturday afternoon last winter: four inches of snow lay plastered over the one-wall handball court at our local high school. I was loitering in the playroom, half sick with thwarted energy. One of our 14 cats pawed an old pink Spaldeen out from under the sofa. Fate uses humble agents. Absentmindedly, I kicked the small rubber ball against a low brick ledge in front of my fireplace. It came back. I returned it. And again. And again. Left-right, left-right. Faster. I called my wife down. She felt my forehead with the back of her hand. Hell, they laughed at Naismith and his peach basket. I addressed the ball. My wife returned it. In five minutes we had 20-shot volleys going. Exuberant, I unloaded on the Spaldeen, whoomp, into my fireplace. I stood there, visibly shaken, as gray dust settled in the grate. By George, I had just invented feetball.
Blooming Grove, N.Y. is now the feetball capital of America. I am the world singles champion, an innovator's prerogative. My 9-year-old son plays with his friends. My wife and I play mixed doubles with the neighbors. Feetball comes easily. The side of your foot is a big area (the side is always used, never the toe) and your living-room wall is a big target. Even people who tend to dribble a basketball on their own insteps can play feetball competitively after one or two practice volleys. It's a game of position and strategy. The exercise is sweet: a 21-point feetball game is worth 10 miserable minutes jogging. And unlike handball—the rules of which are similar and the scoring identical—you don't have to bend down for the darned ball after every point.
The secret of feetball is wonderfully simple. It was suggested by my low brick ledge. Any shot over 10 inches high is out. This holds play down where it can't threaten your storm windows. Use tape or string to mark a line on your wall 10 inches above the floor. Depending on skill and strategy, one can use rollers, bounces or low line drives. Any ordinary ball is fine, the deader the better. You don't want too much resilience, though the low bouncing shot is a favorite with very advanced players. It requires nice skill to return a shot with ankle or shin and keep it below the 10-inch line. A return must hit and come back at least five inches. Shots that just roll to rest against the wall are out.
In essence, then, feetball is three-wall handball played with the feet. Serves are struck against the front wall; they may then rebound from either sidewalk. Returns to the front wall may be direct or they may carom off a sidewall first. Handball is played by bounces; since bounces are irrelevant in feetball, point or serve is lost any time a ball gets past a player to the fourth wall or stops dead. Dimensions vary with room size. You'll need at least a nine-foot front wall for doubles, seven or eight for singles. Allow yourself an eight-foot depth. Dimensions should be adjusted to the players' experience, more room for beginners, less for experts. Points are scored by the server. On weak hits the ball must be returned before it stops rolling. For interference, blocks, order of serve in doubles, etc., handball rules apply.
I recommend bare or stockinged feet for the beginner. Splinters, of course, are a consideration. Hut if your floors have been carpeted, bare or stockinged feet will minimize rug wear. Feetball played with shoes is extremely fast. It requires tremendous lateral agility and elastic gluteal muscles. The characteristic feetball address is a wide, outward arc of the leg, striking foot perpendicular to the braced foot. Rapid action seldom allows time to set both legs for the characteristic outward arc. Yet my son can play me even up with just a slight self-imposed handicap in velocity on my part. Feetball is an ideal wet afternoon recreation for children.
Feetball is a sport for all seasons especially for this season, when ready cash is short and a day on the golf course can run you 20 bucks. It's exacting, yet easy to learn; you don't need expensive lessons from some jaded feetball pro. A workable feetball kit costs 49� at F. W. Woolworth if you don't have an old Spaldeen under the sofa, and every home in America has an old Spaldeen under the sofa. Last winter, with thermostats in the 60s, feetball was warming. It will improve your wind, tone your calf muscles. And, dang it, feetball is fun.
The possibilities are mind boggling. With Avery Brundage gone, there's 1976. The Russians are outclassed already. And wait 'til you see my line of apr�s feetball fashions....
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