August 8, 2020:

I should explain the game of teamball.

Apparently this is a San Diego thing, like Over the Line but with clothes. I've never encountered it elsewhere, and seemingly no-one, including Google, has heard of it. Not exactly perfectly true. There's a game called "teamball" played in Holland, but it's played with a net, like badminton, and it's far more civilized.

Our teamball goes like this. There's a very large rectangle drawn in the schoolyard sand, divided at the middle into two equal squares. Half of a school class stands inside one square, the other half inside the other; except, each team sends one individual to the opposite side of the enemy square, all the way outside the line. That position is called "out" — makes sense, it's outside the box — and the goal is to get all the opposing team members to stand there. Last team with member(s) inside their box wins.

Players are knocked "out" by being hit with a ball they can't catch. We play with a volleyball, fully-inflated, so it hits hard and bounces with energy. But we don't hit the ball as in volleyball, we throw it, hard, as in burnouts. It's like team burnouts with strategy.

The strategy is when to try to hit someone on the opposing team. The teams are allowed to throw the ball back and forth over the heads of the enemies, between their people inside the square and their people who are "out". When you do that you force the other team to run away from the ball. You can tire them out, or, more usually, when the less agile players get separated and lag you can pick them off, like a pride of lions hunting gazelles. Go for the stragglers.

So you try to smash an opponent with the ball. If you hit them and they can't catch it, they're "out". They leave their team's square to stand instead in the "out" space outside the rectangle. If they catch the ball, though, their team now owns it and they can try to nail you. Part of the strategy is keeping the ball in your side's hands.

I loved it so much. The clumsy kids hated it. They were cannon fodder, dead meat walking. It humiliated and sometimes injured them. Getting slammed with a volleyball at close range can break your glasses or your nose. Casualties of war.

I vividly remember a time I had a kid dead to rights. He was two feet away, I caught the ball his teammate threw, I was gonna slam him good 'cos he had nowhere to go. Instead he timed a perfect move perfectly. Just as I released he hit the deck, dropping hard and fast onto all fours so that my throw passed harmlessly overhead. It was beautiful. I'm a good sport: I congratulated him wholeheartedly.

That was my persona: playground predator who played by the rules. I was not out to hurt anyone, or humiliate them. I was hyper-competitive and determined to win. Fairly. But decisively. That's how we were in my neighborhood. All of us, boys and girls and parents. Play hard, play fair, play to win.

It was not appreciated by the gifted kids. That was not their culture. As I eventually learned, many never played in their neighborhoods at all. That was very foreign to me.