Respect the Game
he slam of the ball into the ground turned into a rhythm beating in
Ronan’s head. He swayed side to side to the beat of the ball pounding from one square to another as he eagerly waited for his turn to jump into an open spot on the court. It took him a few minutes to release the tensions of being cooped up in classes all morning. The tempo of foursquare soothed him. He began to relax, loosening his tie and untucking his shirt. Sweat dripped off his body as he munched on a sandwich.
All attention turned toward the boys occupying the four boxes painted on the pavement. The boy in the king square scanned the other players with intense concentration and then dropped the ball and served it to square diagonally across from him. The receiving player hit the ball into the square left of him. The boys kept the ball in play for a few exchanges until it
bounced twice. A player didn’t reach it in time.
“Out!” shouted one of his opponents.
He immediately protested, “The ball went out of bounds.”
“I don’t think so. It looked in,” another observed.
Discussion erupted over the play. Not just among the players but those in line who served as spectator-judges to enforce rules.
“C’mon man, ball doesn’t lie,” one of the guys reminded him, “Respect the game.”
But other guys weren’t so sure. It became apparent that consensus couldn’t be reached. “It could’ve gone either way,” a spectator-judge ruled, “We’ll redo it.” Everyone in line graciously accepted what this decision meant; it would take longer before it was their turn to play.
Ronan first heard about foursquare during preseason football training the summer before he started at St. Francis. At that time, he didn’t understand the intense allure of the game. “It’s hard to explain it until you’ve played,” he was told. He checked out the game’s twitter account updated by a trusted group of upperclassmen. But they mostly tapped out absurd player profiles–hilarious but not too helpful for learning much about the game. He listened to story after story about legendary games. His favorite was about the time when Zack, described as ‘a nerdy theatre kid who just isn’t physically gifted in any way,’ defeated the ‘athletic stud’ Jared, the captain of the hockey team who typically dominated the game. “Best moment in the history of the game. When Zack made that sick play and crushed Jared, everybody was so hyped. Not shitting you, guys literally teared up,” a teammate claimed as he retold the story.
And older guys warned about breaking the golden rules of the game. “When you get in, don’t be a dick,” a senior teammate insisted, “If you’re being a dick either just verbally or just absolutely slamming the ball unnecessarily, the game will police itself. The other guys will all turn on you to get you out and get someone else in.”
“You gotta respect the game. If you don’t respect the game, then everybody is going to make your life a living hell,” another added.
OK, I get it. Don’t be a dick and respect the game. But that doesn’t tell me why it’s sucha big deal, Ronan thought at the time but didn’t dare to speak this out loud.
When the school year started his first year, Ronan ventured out to the court to see if it lived up to the hype. He finally understood what older boys had been trying to tell him. Each player met on equal footing; normal social divisions, especially between athletes and non-athletes, faded away on the court. But the true beauty of the game came from being really simple. Not
much was needed – a ball, four squares painted on the ground, and their willingness to enjoy the moment. This simplicity stood in stark contrast to their everyday lives.
Ronan stuffed what was left of his sandwich in his pants pocket. With only three minutes left in lunchtime, he had just enough time to play a round or two. For those few moments, he became lost in the rhythm of the game.