Stickball and skipping rope were two popular games in my neighborhood when I was a young guy.
Stickball became popular when a house was built on our former baseball field, and we wanted to find a place to play other than the school playground.
Seven guys — including myself — decided we would play stickball on Euclid Avenue because at that time the 500 block of North Euclid was a slow traffic street.
We made certain that windows were far enough away from our “diamond” so we wouldn’t have to pay for breakage or, worse still, be ordered out of the area by angry homeowners.
We used broomsticks for bats and spaldeen balls even though spaldeens could take crazy hops and bounces when they hit the pavement.
The rules of stickball are different from either softball or baseball. We played slow pitch with the pitcher throwing underhanded 40 feet from the plate. The batter would hit the spaldeen on the first bounce and not when it was in the air. Each batter got three swings and foul balls were called strikes.
Strike outs were balls caught by an opposing player, grounders fielded on the first hop or three fouls. We used jackets, fire hydrants and manhole covers for bases. If a batted ball flew into someone’s garden or onto a roof, the batter would be called out.
We didn’t lose balls very often, but we still kept seven or eight spaldeens in reserve. I always looked forward to playing stickball because I read that many major-leaguers learned how to hit breaking pitches because of the sudden bounces taken by a pitched spaldeen.
In the spring of my eighth-grade year, I decided I would try skipping rope after I learned that it was a method used by boxers to build strong legs, increase their lung capacity, and improve their coordination.
I did not plan to become a boxer, but I did want to become more agile.
There were two seventh-grade girls in the neighborhood who volunteered to twirl the rope while I jumped.
I skipped rope only in my backyard so that none of my buddies would see me doing this, and I swore the girls to secrecy.
Strangely enough, I developed into a decent jumper even jumping to chants spoken by the girls such as “One, two, touch my shoe.” I did not, however, touch my shoe.
No more than a few weeks of skipping passed before I believed I could succeed even with another person jumping with me. Cynthia, my next door neighbor, agreed to do this.
I thought I was so good that I told the girls that I would play “Double Dutch,” where two ropes are twirled in opposite directions.
This was when I met my Waterloo.
It was fortunate that the girls were twirling the ropes while standing on grass because I tripped over both ropes and landed on my backside.
I was waiting for the girls to laugh, but they didn’t, so I was able to maintain a degree of dignity.
It was after this incident that I gave up skipping rope, and I was very happy that the girls — including Cynthia — kept my secret.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 78 years.