If the President's men attended, they were artfully disguised.
With or without an emissary from the Administration, the inaugural Capital Classic was an unqualified success. There was standing room only at the outdoor volleyball courts across the street from the National Air and Space Museum (the SRO crowd was due, it must be said, to the absence of seats). Tourists passing on the mall lingered for as long as five minutes before disappearing into the Smithsonian. A video crew from CBS's Sunday Morning interviewed Senator Hatfield and asked bystanders if they thought the reappearance of Hoover-ball portended another Great Depression.
"History is being made here," said Sailor, nattily attired in a black T-shirt inscribed with the call letters of Iowa radio station WMT-FM ("flagship station of the Hoover-ball Network"). "I'd like to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to play Hoover-ball. He could probably throw it from here to the steps of the Capitol."
Only a handful of the Washington-based players had heard of Hoover-ball until recently. A notable exception was The Washington Times sportswriter Mick Heller, who had strong ties to the sport and its origins. His grandfather, Vice Admiral Joel T. Boone, invented the game in 1929, when, as White House physician, he was seeking new ways to help the rotund President Hoover control his weight.
"My grandfather didn't talk too much about the game," Heller admitted. "He liked more conventional sports."
Heller's colleagues at the Times apparently felt that same way. A team made up of "some guys from the office" was on Sailor's entry list, but at the last minute they begged off. "One guy said his car broke down," said a skeptical Heller. "That sounds like a high school excuse to me."
Milton Heller Jr., down from Stowe, Vt., to see his son defend the family escutcheon, could only smile and nod in agreement. Excuses had always been part of Hoover-ball, he said, even in Vice Admiral Boone's time. " Hoover's attorney general used to say he didn't think it was appropriate to throw a four-pound ball at the President of the United States. And the postmaster general always said he was much too busy running the post office to get up at 7 a.m. to play Hoover-ball."
Mick Heller caught on with a team called Eby's Iowans, which finished last in the six-team men's division. That much was clear. Other results at the Capital Classic were ambiguous. The Heaving Hatfields took first place, while The Hatfield Hill Heavers were second, Harkin's Hoover Heavers fourth and Hatfield's Hoover Heavers fifth. Harkin's Hoover Heavers placed first in the five-team women's competition, and Harkin's Hoover Heros were second in the coed division, ahead of Hatfield's Hoover Heavers.'
None of these Washington clubs, according to Sailor, could have whipped the reigning national champs, Iowa City's Forrest Rangers. "The teams back in West Branch are a little miffed because the best teams in the world aren't represented here," Sailor said.
An understatement, that. One of the Washington entries was a team from ComedySportz, a capital-area improvisational comedy troupe. The Sportzketeers dubbed themselves the McCoys and dressed up in hillbilly garb to play one of the myriad teams of Hatfields. "Playing in flannel was not the best idea we ever had," admitted a sweaty Patrick Walsh, brother of Tom. "Even so, we might have won. But they had strategy, which kind of threw us."