I invented a sport in high school. It’s not something I’m known for because no one knows about it, but my sophomore year, with the help of a few friends, we spent the spring laboring over all eventualities that called for rulings in something we named Phishball for absolutely no apparent reason. We had a website and several typed pages of canon.
The easiest way to describe Phishball is as a crossbreed between tennis and volleyball. Played on a tennis court with a kickball, the rubber ball is served from the service line into the opposite service box; there are two service fauls. After it bounces once, the team (which can be any number between three and six, but four usually works best) has three hits to get it back over the net. Since the ball has to bounce once every time it crosses over the net, this creates an interesting game of dodgeball inside this other sport. If someone on Team A spikes it into the chest of someone on Team B, it’s A’s point.
As the sport developed, the linguistics grew alongside. Phishball became a very vocal affair, with an essay long list of commands and responses, including “HULK!” to begin a serve and “NANCY!” when the serve hits the net and doesn’t go over. This is an automatic double fault, and the word must be yelled by both teams with derision.
“SNIPER!” is the shout when someone is hit with the ball before it bounces, the most coveted play in the game.
After the wedding, several of my groomsmen who helped invent the sport stayed in the area to celebrate Christmas. We don’t see each other much anymore. David goes to medical school in Little Rock. Ed works for a non-profit in Seattle. Ryan is half way through graduate school. Before everyone finished Christmas, we made sure to get together for a final game.
A few new friends joined, including my new wife Holly, and for what wasn’t the first time but felt like it, I realized that Phishball is hard to explain. It takes everyone a few games to learn to let the ball bounce once, but the third time Holly asked, “Why do I have to yell ‘DENNIS!’ on someone’s first fault?” I was reminded how difficult it is to explain why high school was funny.
As we played Phishball at Wilson Park last Saturday, tennis games on neighboring courts did their best to ignore the shouts of “NANCY!” and the stray balls we ran down while we whispered, “Sorry, never again, I promise,” to the closest tennis racket. In high school we had been asked to leave a few times but even on a unseasonably warm day in December the courts were not very crowded. It was nice to get three games in, though this sport works only one muscle in my right forearm, and works it well.
(Before we played, a big man in a dirty warrior’s beard gave me a free burrito from a Wal-Mart sack full of burritos. “The old lady is a manager at Chipotle,” he said as if apologizing. I said, “Oh yes, her,” because I know exactly which old lady this stranger was talking about, and took a bite. It was double chicken.)
The first two games, Holly and I were on the same team, but we lost both so the teams were split up. In the last game I was swinging hard at the ball without aiming because usually that was enough to score, when I heard a small cry. The ball slowly rolled away from Holly as she looked at me with fierce anger. “Square on the shoulder!” Ryan yelled as he tried to give me a high five.
We added a new command to the Phishball lexicon. “ACCIDENT!” It means sleeping on the couch.