What the heck is  Hooverball?

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ALTO — A town in Iowa and a group from First Baptist Church in Alto share something in common — Hooverball.

What is Hooverball one may ask? Hooverball is a sport combining tennis, volleyball and medicine ball that was invented by White House physician Admiral Joel T. Boone as a way to keep President Herbert Hoover physically fit.

“It required less skill than tennis, was faster and more vigorous, and therefore gave more exercise in a short time,” Hoover wrote in his Memoirs, states the Hoover presidential library and museum Web site at hoover.archives.gov/education/hooverball.html.

A group from Alto’s First Baptist Church is going to the Hooverball National Championships in West Branch, Iowa — President Herbert Hoover’s hometown — during the 2006 Hoover Fest, Aug. 4-6.

“It’s like what we have here with the Pecan Festival,” said Kirby Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Alto, who’s also a team member. “There will probably be 40 to 50 teams there.”

The Alto group has two teams — the Cherokee Chunkers and the Texas Tornadoes — and includes team members Carl Warner, Michael White, Joe Hall, Shaun Crosby, Dyllan Wood, Brandon Mitchell, Jason Hill, Jesse Reed and Hill.

Hill said he has played before, but this will be the team’s first championship run.

According to the Web site, “Hooverball originated in 1928, when shortly after his election, Hoover took a trip to South America. While aboard the Battleship Utah, he watched a game of ‘bull-in-the-ring,’ a medicine-ball game that was popular on naval ships. A soft nine-pound medicine ball was thrown from one to another of the players standing in a circle as the ‘bull’ in the center tried to intercept it. During the trip, the president-elect played and enjoyed the game, which was the inspiration for Hoover-ball.

“New York Times Magazine reporter William Atherton DuPuy coined the name ‘Hooverball’ for a 1931 article he wrote titled, ‘At the White House at 7 a.m.’”

At its creation, Hooverball (or Hoover-ball as it also can be written) was played by teams of two to four players with a six-pound medicine ball and a net eight-feet-high on a court similar to a tennis court. The game was scored exactly like tennis and played in similar fashion, according to the Hoover Association Web site. The server throws the ball and the opponent must catch it on the fly and immediately return it over the net.

The game is still played as it was during Hoover’s presidency, with only minor changes. When Hoover left the Oval Office in 1933, the sport vanished, however, it has made a major comeback in West Branch, according to the Web site.

Hill said he heard about Hooverball from television.

“I broke my arm and used a medicine ball in rehab,” Hill explained. “I was watching the History Channel one time, and I saw President Hoover playing Hooverball.”

Hill said he believes this group is the first group from Cherokee County to participate in the championship game — a tournament where any team who shows up can get to play.

“I know Texans have played in (the championship before). There was a guy from Killeen who played on a championship team, but I think we’re the first group from Cherokee County. We’re claiming it’s a historical event,” Hill said with a laugh.

The players are sponsored by the church and even had T-shirts made.

“These kids are learning about goal settings, with the practices and all the fundraisers we have done,” Hill said. “We’re a young team, but we’re tough. We’re going to give it our best.”

The team responded, “We’re going to win!”

Those wishing to help the team travel to West Branch, Iowa may send donations to the church, located at 207 East San Antonio Street in Alto.

For more information about the championship, call the Hoover Presidential Library Association at 319-643-5327 or 800-828-0475.



Rules for Playing

· The court is 66 feet by 30 feet.

· A 6-pound medicine ball and 8-foot volleyball net are used.

· Teams consist of 2-4 players. (For the national championships, 3-player teams will be used.) Each team may have one or two substitutes.

· Scoring is exactly like tennis. Teams play best-of-five or best-of-seven games.

· Points are scored when a team: fails to catch the return, fails to return the ball across the net, returns the ball out of bounds.

· The ball is served from the back line. The serve is rotated among one team until the game is won. Teams alternate serving after each game.

· The ball must be caught on the fly and immediately returned from the point it was caught. There is no running with the ball or passing to teammates.

· Each team’s court is divided in half. A ball returned from the front half of your court must be returned to the back half of your opponent’s court. If the ball doesn’t reach the back court, the opponent is awarded the point.

· A ball that hits the out-of-bounds line is a good return.

· A player who catches the ball out-of-bounds, or is carried out-of-bounds by the force of the ball, may return in-bounds before the return.

· A ball that hits the net on its way over is a live ball. (If it was thrown from the

front court, it must reach the opponent’s back court to be good.)

· Teams may substitute at dead ball situations.

· Women serve from the mid-court line.

· Women may pass once before a return.

· Women may return the ball to any area of the opponent’s court.

· Good sportsmanship is required. Points in dispute are played over.