King of the Ring
Ten years after John Stalberger and Mike Marshall invented it, it was 1982 and my buddy Eric “B” introduced me to the little leather ball called Hacky Sack. I hadn’t given it much thought in years, but last June, somewhere between my work schedule and weekend plans I must admit, I felt a little nostalgic when I saw three teenage youths kicking around the familiar foot-bag at my son’s baseball game. Now I’m not one to steal anyone’s credit for good works, but these three boys hit the bag one-time-each (without letting the hacky fall) and simultaneously announced “ringer”. I smiled to myself and wondered how the hell they could have possibly known this accomplishment was correctly described as a “ringer”. I admired how much fun they had playing and how they were so familiar with the vocabulary and philosophy of a game style more than 25 years old. You See, in spite of what my wife and kids will admit, I am T.R. Ringaarrr and my friends of the early 80s and myself, made up the vocabulary, rules, and philosophy for this style of “Hacky” play, ten years before these kids were even born.
Now, anyone who knows me by that nick name knows this to be true. But lets face it. Many of you don’t know me at all; so let me fill in some of the gaps. Keep in mind, most of this could be bullshit, but then again, why would I bother. Believe me, I would have come up with something better and it would have involved me getting laid.
In 1982 I was part of a hippy sub culture stuck in the 80s’. I hung out with a punky group of BXM riding kids who dawned un-tuked Hawaiian shirts and Vans. I still have photos of our baby faces and ultra long hair. (Way before the mullet) and can still hear the quickness of our smart-ass mouths. The arcade was my favorite place to be and if you’re on my web site that’s easy to see, but the arcade costs quarters. Sometimes you have “no quarters” (Led Zeppelin pun), so you look for anything stimulating to do. What’s better for broke video game arcade teens than a game requiring good eye-hand/foot coordination and little cardio vascular effort? Besides the game was virtually unknown, you could play on a parking lot sidewalk, and a “hacky” could be bought for about two bucks. We were a bunch of GenXers’ who embraced things that were different and you could play this game Chinese-eye-stoned and still come up with a good play or two. Talk about not your everyday. It was a perfect fit. The original instructions that came with a new Hacky Sack described a “volley” type of play where two players played over a five-foot net like tennis or badminton. The instructions were a small piece of folded paper with one illustration and a few paragraphs of text. This was not much to go on and that type of play did not allow for any freestyle action. In addition, players who sucked at the game only stood to ruin the game with bad play, so collectively we formed an “elimination” type game played in a circle or “ring” where all players (good-or-bad) could play. Not too strange for us at this time, because most of our alternative games were played in a “ring”. The significance of “ring” play is residual of the alternative game “celibacy ring toss”. For now I’ll call that game alternative for lack of better word to describe a circle of stoned guys trying to ring each others necks with a bike tire… No shit. (More on this later)
In an “elimination” game players who had freestyle skills could safely exercise their wares while less skillful players could simply “pass the hack” and stay in the game. “Styling” was commonplace for alternative sporting and most often found in popular BMX. Many of the terms we made up were derivatives of slang terms from skateboarding, BMX or the Arcade, with stoner twists. Because “styling,” meant good players might also be eliminated from the ring, (screwing up on cool moves) the best player did not always become “king of the ring”. This made the game immensely entertaining because it was always different. It also meant in time regular members of the ring would entrust you a nickname to mock or compliment your play. This nickname was meant to be a caricature of your different moves or style. Nicknames were an earned right of passage for good behavior (play) and most players were only recognized by their nickname. Twenty-five years later and I still run into guys I played with that I only know by nickname and they only know me as T.R.
Original “Hack 50 Hack” 1985 Hacks were often Signed by Players
The basic rules of “elimination” or “king of the ring” break down like this.
Now, if you’re thinking that sounds easy enough, I also remember, back in 1982 when NSGA still had a show in Chicago we met the world’s champ in Hacky Sack for consecutive Hacky Sack hits. I don’t remember his name, but he was on some milk commercial and had consecutive hits over 43K. Aspiring to reach that level of greatness we created the “hack 50”. This was a small ring of players who had proven their skills by hitting the hacky consecutively 50 times or more to themselves with out fail. I have only known a handful of players who have successfully done this. This was a feat always verified by another “hack 50 player” which meant you could not simply say you were a “hack 50 player”. A ring of these players was called a “hack 50 ring” and no other players were allowed in such a ring. This helped hone skills by playing with better players and getting some great freestyle practice. Some of my favorite memories are playing with this group. Even if you were not a hacky fan, this action was fun to watch.
Different Style footbag used in “Combat Hack”
After this explanation, few could deny this style or philosophy of play has stood the test of time. It’s evident when you see a handful of youths playing “hacky” like I did at my son’s baseball game in June. But you may still be asking how this happened. I believe the distribution of the game philosophy comes from the fact that my high school (Forest View) closed my senior year 1986, and the underclassmen brought the style of game we played to several other high schools in the area. As seniors we remembered the asshole seniors when we were freshman, and vowed never to take such positions as seniors ourselves. For these reasons we always allowed the underclassmen to play, so it stands to reason the philosophy and game play was passed down from class to class.
Over the last two decades I have played “hacky” on a not-so regular basis with many kids and adults. Often add ional rules and styles of play have come and gone. Regular ring players almost always end up reverting back to a “gentleman’s”, “hippy-esc”, style of game play like the one we pioneered in 1982. Please feel free to use this definition of the game and if you must, adjust, but don’t add too much variation to the philosophy. The important part is to laugh, have fun, and welcome all players from all generative groups. Remember for us, playing Hacky Sack was more about a certain life-style than just a game.
I want to thank my friends for continuing to inspire me to tell the stories of our youth. (Hope you guys think I’m getting better at this)
Great things can only be born of true heart.