My wife and daughter were watching the children’s show Bubble Guppies the other day. They were playing a game that looked a lot like soccer baseball and my wife mentioned how they used to play that when she was in elementary school. “Never played soccer baseball” I said “We played squareball!”
If you grew up in Grand Falls-Windsor sometime between the 1970’s and the 1990’s chances are you are familiar with the game of squareball. Chances are if you are from somewhere else in Newfoundland you are probably not familiar with this game, even though the parent game came from the mainland.
Squareball appears to be a variation of the mainland North American Children’s game of “four square’ with some minor local variations. For years I thought it might have been some game that was peculiar to Grand Falls, but that was before the internet. How square ball came to Grand Falls-Windsor isn’t clearly known-there are stories that it may have been introduced by a gym teacher from the mainland or that it might have been introduced by Les Percy-who taught Phys Ed at GFA Elementary. Percy came to teach there in the 1970’s so the dates for that origin match up.
Kids in all the schools in town played square ball when I was growing up twenty odd years ago. It would be fitting that the sport was introduced from the gym of GFA Elementary because a hell of a lot of the game was played in the parking lot of that school. The parking lot in front of the school had seen better days, even at that point. I think there might have been two squareball courts painted near the gates of the memorial grounds, these were usually the property of the older kids in the school. The younger kids had to make do with making their own courts, drawing them out with chalk or in the absence of chalk-a rock.
Interestingly enough, there are regulations for ‘four square” with a court measuring 16×16 feet. I do not ever recall a measuring tape being broken out to mark out a squareball court. To us a squareball court consisted of a square, subdivided into four squares with the square in the left corner for the server. The object of the game was to sat in the longest and become the server rotating around or out depending if you hit or missed the ball. The game would start with the server serving the ball to one of the other players. The players would basically then slap or hit the ball around the court, if you missed the ball you were out. If the server really wanted to get somebody out then they served the ball with great force in a move known as a “newspaper”-at which point the server would yell “NEWSPAPER!” Some of the rules I can recall include no newspapers and no slappies, slappies were when the player could slap the ball a couple of time before passing it to another player- you could play with slappies but that was total grade four stuff. Another rule was against carrying-or having contact with the ball too long on the return. You could use pretty much any kind of medium to large sized ball for playing square ball, basketballs were common but we found that the very best kind of ball to use was one of those miniature basketballs. If your teacher was really cool you could play square ball in the classroom which was the case when I had Mrs. Thompson as a teacher in Grade 6. We even had a squareball court taped onto the floor so we could play before class!
Another phenomena associated with squareball was roofing the ball-this happened when of the “bad” kids from grade 8 got a hold of your ball and threw or kicked the ball on top of the school. Some years the janitor would go up on the roof at the end of the years and throw the balls back down. I have no doubt in my mind there were balls up there when they closed the school. I recall asking people who had been up there after the school was closed “how many balls were up there!” and did you find so and so’s ball.
Eventually after I left elementary school, legitimate square ball courts were painted on the parking lot of GFA elementary and also on the parking lot of Millcrest (NDA) Academy after the elementary school was moved up there.
GFA Elementary was torn down a couple of years ago and now an apartment building sits dangerously close to where the square ball courts used to be. Over the years it has become the general understanding with many who worked or was educated in the building that the old place was probably maggoty with ghosts or at least haunted. I have heard stories of people being there on the dead of night over the holidays when they have heard children playing, only to find there wasn’t a soul around. So I wonder if now if you go the end of Memorial Avenue and listen hard enough if you can hear the sound of children playing and if you listen really closely you might hear a ball being bounced back and forth between four play