On Sunday afternoon Alex and I took apart his Gaga Ball pit.
Alex was introduced to the game of Gaga Ball while attending a Cub Scout camping weekend prior to the start of fourth grade.
For those unfamiliar with it, Gaga Ball takes place in a large octagon-shaped pen and can best be described as a cage-match dodgeball. Rather than throwing a ball at one another, the participants bat the ball with their palm with the intent of hitting another player between their ankles and their knees.
The game is a popular one at summer camps around the world because it requires little in the way of formal equipment and allows participants to blow off steam. It is also one where parents and children can play together on a more or less even playing field.
After coming back from camp, Alex and I put together our own court in a large flat area of my front yard. I am sure my neighbors must have been scratching their heads and wondering what kind of livestock I was planning to keep in the blue and white painted corral-like structure.
My plan was for the pit to be portable. The sides were held together with bolts that could be quickly dismantled slid into the back of my vehicle and assembled wherever we wanted to play.
While we did take it to some events and even to Holy Rosary School where my son’s classmates played it during gym class, for the most part it stayed in my front yard where Alex and the other kids in the neighborhood would spend countless hours playing to the point where the grass in the pit would be worn away.
I remember the nights when children from down the block would show up at our front door after dinner on summer evenings and ask if Alex could come out and play with them. Their laughter and the steady thunks of the ball could be heard for hours with games finally being called because it got too dark to see.
Over the years we learned to keep on hand a steady reserve of balls for those that got knocked onto the roof or into the sharp branch of a nearby tree where they burst. Every mishap would result in a short delay with the laughter quickly returning.
This past summer the Gaga pit was used only a handful of times. As the kids in the neighborhood have gotten older, things like computer games and other activities pulled them away. Still, the Gaga pit was ready and waiting, even if I would have to periodically take a wall down to mow the inside area.
Wisconsin’s winter storms and summer rains are not gentle to any structure built by human hands. More and more, I have been noting places where the paint was peeling off and others where the boards had become loose or some rot had set in.
Alex started high school this fall. Like my son’s childhood, the gaga ball pit’s days were rapidly coming to an end. In the end, it was my wife who made the call that the pit needed to come down, “For the winter.”
As Alex and I took using a screw gun and wrench to remove the bolts and nuts and then carry the eight-foot wall segments to be stored next to our backyard shed, I couldn’t help but think that this would probably be the end of the Gaga Ball pit. At the very least, setting it up again will require an extensive reconstruction. It is more likely that the sturdy pieces will be repurposed for other projects and worn areas discarded. Even the octagon pattern in the grass where the pit stood will be gone within a season.
Still, as I stand by my kitchen window, I close my eyes and imagine I hear the sounds of children’s laughter and of the steady thump of a rubber ball.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.