Men With Balls #3
by Kevin Ahern

A third ball-related event took place in another bowl shaped outdoor public observing area. As in the other two events, there were two groups of men opposing each other and the people observing the event appeared to favor one of the groups of men over the other as shown by their exuberance at the successes of one of the groups of men and displeasure at the successes of the other.

The activity in this event was confusing compared to the other two. It began with nine identically dressed men opposing a single man dressed differently. The different man carried a rounded stick that had, at the end closest to where he held it, a viscous black substance resembling tar or a similar material.

One member of the group of nine men facing the man with the stick held in his hand the ball used in this game. It is considerably smaller than the one in the other two games - round, not inflated, and a bit smaller than a fist.

To begin play, the man responsible for throwing the ball in the direction of the stick-bearing man gesticulated with his arms and legs. At the end of these elaborate gestures, using his arm, he sent the ball at high speed in the direction of the man with the stick. It is the job of the stick man to swat the ball with his stick if he is able to. This appeared to be difficult to do as witnessed by his numerous unsuccessful swipes at the ball.
If the man with the stick is not be successful in three attempts to swat the ball, he was required to sit down and was replaced by another man with a similar stick.

On the other hand, when a man was successful in swatting the ball with the stick, he dispensed of the stick and began a race towards a square, white object on the ground approximately 90 feet from the point where he smacked the ball. Meanwhile, the 9 men opposing him attempted to capture the smacked ball and deliver it to the person standing on the white object before the smacking man arrived. If they were successful, the smacking man was made to rejoin his colleagues in the underground sanctuary where they gathered and sit down. However, if the swatter of the ball outraced the arrival of the ball to the white square, he was allowed to remain unfettered, standing on the white object. The white square appeared to offer some sanctuary or protection to the swatter.

Sometimes the man with the stick would hit the ball hard, causing it to travel such a long distance that the man could not only arrive safely at the first white object before the ball arrived, he could also safely negotiate touching a second, a third, or even a fourth white object on the playing surface. The fourth object, in contrast to the other three square ones, is pentagonal shaped and has significance as it is located at the same place from where the man first hit the ball with the stick. When he has touched that pentagonal object, his colleague express their pleasure by hitting him on his bottom.

Far away from the stick man is a fence. If the swatting man should pound the ball so hard that it lands over the fence, everyone stops and watches the swatting man run and step on each of the four white objects. Often he touches his hat in transit and is welcomed back to the point of origin by a group of his fellow men as before. Movement of a running man from one object to the next is always the same - counterclockwise, irrespective of which group of men is defending against the man.

After the first group of men had their turns to whack the ball with the stick, they were replaced on the playing surface by 9 men of the other squad who performed as the first group did.

The game was managed by four men, but unlike the other games, these men were dressed in dark blue and carried no whistles. They used simple hand gestures to indicate their decisions. One stands at each of the white objects on the field and their job is to decide if the player or the ball arrived first at each object. In addition, the blue man at the pentagonal object was called upon to decide whether or not the ball tossed by the hurling man could have been swatted by the stick man or if it was unreasonable to expect him to do so.

The judgment of the men in blue was often called into question by people watching the events on the playing surface. In addition, the leader of the group of men or individual men themselves, such as the stick man, the hurling man, or any of the men on the white objects, expressed unhappiness at blue man decisions. The most commonly expressed concern was for the vision of the blue men. In egregious circumstances, the life of the blue man could be threatened by people watching the event, but this was mostly done in jest to remind the blue men that they are paying attention.

Sometimes during an event, a man hurling the ball may either make numerous deliveries to the stick man that are outside of the normal swattable range or, alternatively, several consecutive men with sticks may vigorously swat numerous of his offerings for a great distance. When either of these circumstances occurred, the leader of the nine men on the field emerged from his underground sanctuary and walked slowly out to speak with the hurling man.

Commonly the leader, the ball tosser, and other members of the squad met at the point of ball tossing and engaged in a communal activity, usually involving expectoration. At the end of this ritual, the ball tosser might be replaced by a different ball tosser or, alternatively, nothing might happen. Such activities may occur multiple times during an event.

In contrast to the other games, this one does not have a countdown clock. The groups of differently dressed men take turns either hurling and chasing balls or attempting to swat them. After each group has had nine chances of each, the event is declared over unless the number of men on each squad who have touched all four white objects is the same. Then the game is extended until one group exceeds the number of white object touchings compared to the other group. Sometimes at the conclusion of an event, the people who observed it are happy. Other times they are sad. No one is happy every time they depart from one of these events.


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