Where’s my tetherball gold medal? Childhood sports that should make the Olympics

The London Olympics are showing how years upon years of disciplined practice by serious athletes can result in incredible performances, worldwide acclaim, and a possible gold medal.

Tetherball has rules? Who knew? Catherine Ledner / Getty Images stock

The rest of us, sitting at home watching from our couches? We may not have that fame and fortune, or memories of getting up at 4 a.m. to walk a balance beam with a crabby Romanian coach, but often we can look back on our own memories of sports or games that we played as kids.

So as a tribute to all the non-Olympians out there, who deserve their own gold medals in card playing, kickball or jump rope, here are some of our memories. Could you have medaled in any of these sports?


Boston had its Green Monster, but during the summer of 1976, we kids of North Owasso Boulevard in Shoreview, Minn. had an equally threatening outfield: Lake Wabasso. Every night that summer of America’s Bicentennial we played kickball in my cousins’ yard. If you could only manage to thump the red dimpled ball past the outfielders, you were pretty much golden. It was going to roll into the cattails and marshy lake edge and your outfielder was going to have to wade into and pick their way through the shallows to retrieve the ball, all the while you zoomed around the bases like our Olympic hero of that summer, Bruce Jenner. Kickball was democratic –- we girls had as good a shot as our big brothers and neighbors to nail a solid kick or catch a popped-up ball — and it was simple, everyone knew the rules. In those pre-Internet distraction days, I sank into the game, never even looking up until the sun went down or my dad showed up to walk me back across the busy street to our house. By the next summer, we had moved, and my kickball days were over. But only last month, on a walk by my Seattle home, I stumbled upon an adult kickball league that eagerly announced they’re looking for more players. But there’s no lake in their outfield, so my strategy would have to change dramatically. –Gael Fashingbauer Cooper


I must have been about 7 years old when I first realized that tetherball might just be the perfect summer activity. For a not-so-athletically inclined kid who wasn’t about to play kickball in the unrelenting Florida heat or climb up on branding-iron-hot monkey bars, this simple ball-tied-to-a-pole game -- ideally situated beneath a shady, live oak canopy -- held plenty of appeal. The rules were simple enough: While holding an ice-cold drink in one hand, slap the ball toward your opponent. If you’re lucky, the orb will either bean the other player, or it’ll sail right past and swoop around the pole. If you’re not so lucky, your opponent will land one of those sweet shots instead. Also, you should both shout something ridiculous at each other with every turn. (My pal and I favored the classic “Looney Tunes” battle cries of “Duck season!” vs. “Rabbit season!” for no particular reason.) I’ve since learned those aren’t the real rules for tetherball, but they’re the ones I still follow today. But take heed! One epic face off in the ‘90s left my BFF with a torn rotator cuff. Fortunately, my own injuries were limited to the tetherball standards: a beet-red hand, a sore throat and a spilled drink. --Ree Hines

Bodysurfing can be a blast for the surfers, but nerve-wracking for the surfers' parents. Getty Images stock


While most of my time was otherwise devoted to such highbrow pursuits as comic-book-collecting, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the finer points of the KISS discography, my summers in the late 1970s as a tween were largely ruled by one mighty force: the ocean. Flanked by a gaggle of friends out in Quogue, Long Island from early June to late August, I spent hours goofing around in the sprawling surf of the Atlantic Ocean, getting mercilessly tumbled and forever hoping for that perfect wave that would give me the ride of my short, frivolous life. Regardless of red flags, low temperatures, jellyfish, the threat of rip currents or even the ominous strains of the theme from “Jaws,” we’d happily go charging into the water every day, the rougher the surf the better. Even after a few terrifying waves gave me a couple of vigorous saltwater beat-downs, it seemed I’d never learn my lesson. Now, decades later, I stand on the very same shoreline and watch as my own children giddily start to explore the timeless joys of the ocean, quietly dreading the day they’ll discover their own love for the cresting wave and hoping they’ll be more responsible than their old man. --Alex Smith

Card playing

As the 1980 reigning Spit Champeen of Bar-T-Ranch camp in Gaithersburg, Md., I want to trumpet the endless summer pleasures of … card-playing. Sure, camp was great: We had horseback riding, swimming twice a day, Grape Nehi in bottles, Nuke-Em volleyball, Go-Karts. But between waiting for activities to begin and just general lazy free time, we dealt in cards. Crazy 8s, Slap Jack, War, Go Fish (if extremely bored), Pig, and the one game I simply could not be beat at: Spit. (Others of you may know it as Speed, but let’s face it – kids prefer something gross-sounding.) It’s a fast-moving game, a round always drawing a crowd. And as an uncoordinated 10-year-old, I relished the idea of being No. 1 at something. Except: I wasn’t, not always – my friend Beth Burns and I would face off regularly at Spit, and almost like clockwork, trade off the winner’s spot. So it also taught me to share, because Beth was awesome. Just like Spit. Lay your cards down now! --Randee Dawn

Marty Wolk and brothers, including Scott Wolk, shown, took Wiffle ball very seriously in the 1970s. Marty Wolk

Wiffle ball

Our suburban Cleveland backyard was home to hundreds of Wiffle ball games in the 1970s. The rules were detailed and arcane, and arguments over close plays could be heard clearly three houses away. Everyone had to turn around to hit lefthanded, supposedly as a handicap, since the park favored right-handed hitters. But the genius of the game was one simple rule: Hit it into the hedges, you're out. Over the hedges, and it's a home run. In high summer, the bushy hedges soared over 10 feet high and the giant maple trees drooped down, heavy with leaves, leaving only a small gap to shoot for in center field. But the thrill of lining one out on a warm summer afternoon, driving in three invisible runners to beat your brother -- that is a summer memory that is hard to top. --Martin Wolk

Bike riding

When I was a kid, summers were a time of unimaginable freedom. No school. No TV limits. No organized activities. Under the clear blue California sky, with nothing to limit me but my own imagination, I was free to roam the neighborhood on my pink Huffy bike. I filled my days riding to friends’ homes, to the park, and when I was a little older, to the local 7-Eleven or Thrifty Drug Store for ice cream. I perfected tricks such as “no hands” riding and jumping off curbs. I would ride out past the abandoned golf course and down the unfinished street with the S-shaped sidewalk. The world was mine to explore. Eventually I would return home for dinner, but afterwards I would head out again into the late summer evening, with a promise to be home before the streetlights came on. --Joy Jernigan

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