By Matthew Schaeffer
After Herbert Hoover left the White House on March 4, 1933, Hoover Ball disappeared from the public awareness. Clearly Franklin Roosevelt, suffering from the lingering impact of polio, was not going to throw a six pound ball over a net. Like Calvin Coolidge’s mechanical horse, Hoover ball was consigned to the dust bin of history.
The game was revived in the late 1980s by a high school journalism teacher and the Hoover Presidential Foundation. The Foundation hosted the first annual National Hoover Ball Championship in 1988 drawing participants from across Iowa. Some players said the game was akin to throwing a frozen turkey over a garage, catching it, and repeating until exhausted. Pete Hoover, grandson of the President, played one game during the 1988 competition. He then returned to the sideline saying, ‘This is no game for old men.’
The rejuvenation of Hoover ball continued into the twenty first century, thanks in part to the rise of non-traditional sports. Cross Fit founded Greg Glassman gave Hoover ball a boost when he and several of his fittest trainers were fatigued by a thirty minute game. Of course, being Cross Fit fanatics, they upped the ante by using a twenty pound ball. Thanks to YouTube’s dissemination of the rules, Hoover ball is now played in high school classes across America.
In June 2015, a fitness magazine identified Hoover ball as one of the fourteen world championships that anyone could win, ranking it just below the world pillow fighting event in California and above the World Stone Skimming competition in Scotland. Having played Hoover ball as a fifty-four year old man, I would not agree with the conclusion that anyone could win. It is physically demanding on many fronts: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility. It calls for strategy, teamwork and a willingness to grind out points in the summer heat of Iowa. If the match involved four fifty-something bureaucrats living out their weekend warrior dreams taking on a four twenty-five year old Cross-Fitters on an off day, I’d bet a body part on the Cross-Fitters.