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Tetherball: the city game is back!

The Brooklyn Paper
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This paper has taken a very principled stand against the waterfront condo-and-open-space development known as Brooklyn Bridge Park, but the time has come for the Brooklyn Angle to break from The Brooklyn Paper and support Brooklyn Bridge Park for one reason and one reason only: tetherball.

The other day, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy sent out a glossy mailing highlighting all the recreational offerings their new park would have — and tetherball was right there on Pier 2 (see rendering).

Yes, tetherball — the true city game — is coming back to Brooklyn, the borough that, arguably, nurtured the greatest talents that the sport has ever produced (true, Leroy “Tight Serve” Johnson was from Fresno, but he’s nothing compared to Kareem Abdul Fishman — Midwood High School ’45! — and Ollie “Loop-de-loop” Carradine, the pride of Westinghouse High).

Indeed, all these legends have been forgotten — but only because the city’s Parks Department, the Board of Education and Robert Moses’s long-powerful Office of Tetherball Services dropped (or, more accurately, severed) the ball and eliminated hundreds, if not dozens, of tetherball courts citywide.

“There really aren’t any tetherball courts in schools anymore,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

A Parks Department flack said the same thing to me — me, the greatest tetherball star (indeed, the only tetherball star) ever produced by Ardsley High School. The Parks spokeswoman might as well have ripped out my heart, tied it to a rope and smacked it around a pole.

You think I’m joking? You think my affection for tetherball is just a writerly conceit, something to fill a column during the loathsome winter months between the Jets’ playoff loss and the Mets’ home opener?

No, the Brooklyn Angle is truly tetherball’s last great champion. When I saw the latest renderings of the park, my spirit soared like it did whenever I slammed a ball past Kenny “Gimpy” Kramer in fourth grade.

I had to find the person responsible for restoring tetherball to its rightful place in the pantheon of sport. Given the greatness of this game, I figured people would be falling all over each other (which is a foot-fault in tetherball, as you know) to take credit for getting landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to add tetherball to the park’s offerings.

I called everyone, but no one took credit or even knew whose idea it was to include the greatest schoolyard game since “Beat up the Four-Eyes” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. In fact, no one really cared.

Could I really be alone in my love of this great game? Some surfing on the Web revealed that even lesser schoolyard games like “Dodgeball” and “Taunt the Fat Kid Until He Cries” have national governing bodies and dreams of becoming the next great Olympic sport. But tetherball has no such community.

“We are probably the nearest thing to a centralized tetherball authority,” a guy from the Web site, Total Tetherball, told me. “And we even don’t have an idea of the status of the sport.”

Wikipedia mocked me ruefully: “Professional tetherball simply does not exist.”

Oh, yeah, try telling that to Nick Bettis, national sales manager for Mikasa, the nation’s leading manufacturer of tetherballs.

“Our sales are going up every year,” Bettis claimed. “We ship a ton of tetherballs!”

Bettis said the sport’s golden age was about 20 years ago — “Everyone had a tetherball in his backyard,” he said, and I found myself nodding — but sales picked up again in the fall of 2001.

He attributed it to a “void in the marketplace.” I attributed it to America coming together after a great tragedy and seeking comfort in the one true game.

After all, while dodgeball was openly mocked in a Ben Stiller comedy a few years ago, another flick that came out at the same time, “Napoleon Dynamite,” features a lovable high-school kid who dreams of becoming a tetherball champion.

And he’s the hero of the film, I’ll remind you.

But could Nick Bettis, the writers of “Napoleon Dynamite” and I be the only ones carrying the ball (again, that’s a foul in tetherball)? It appears that way: I went to Modell’s to buy a new tetherball — you know, to get back into playing shape — and was shocked to discover that not everyone shared my obsession with the immortal game.

“What is tetherball?” the manager, an otherwise nice guy named Rick, asked me. “This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

The first he’s hearing about it? The man’s store has more balls than a psychotic gym teacher — baseballs, footballs, basketballs, volley, soccer, tennis, Nerf, medicine, ab — yet he had never heard of tetherball?

Even at Triangle Sports, a local outfit, the manager there was equally unaware of the coming tetherball explosion.

“No one ever asks for them,” said Corny, the manager. “I do hear that some guys play a regular tetherball game in Prospect Park.”

My hopes soared, only to be immediately dashed: “That’s not true,” said Jesse Adelman, a spokeswoman for the Prospect Park Alliance. “I think there may be a few guys who tie a ball to one of our netball courts, but it’s not a real tetherball game.”

Netball? What the hell is netball?

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
Updated 4:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Richelle from Rio Linda says:
I used to plat tetherball in grade school. I've been to many schools and some of them didn't have tetherball, some of the schools did but nobody played, but then again few schools had so many students playing that a third of them didn't get to play. Sometimes I try thinking of a way to see if tetherball could become a sport, but there has been no luck. I havent played tetherball in a while now and I miss it. I'm in 7th grade, and I havent seen not one tetherball at any of the middle schools in California that I've seen. Well thats all I can say for now, I hope this has some kind of effect on something.
Jan. 27, 2010, 2:56 pm
greg from 89120 says:
where is the theatherball park at?
March 12, 2011, 12:50 pm
Yehuda from Remsen Village says:
Fantasy Tetherball!!!!!!!!!!
Aug. 30, 2012, 1:15 pm

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