25 February 2010


Recess isn’t just for kids anymore...

If you’ve ever walked through the parking lot at Oakland’s Rockridge Bart late on a Thursday night, you may have seen a group of raucous twenty and thirty somethings yelling and drinking beer. They’re not a bunch of hooligans. They are out there playing a friendly game of four square. Reporter Dara Kerr joins them for a round.

* * *

DARA KERR: We’re here under the Rockridge Bart train. The parking lot’s lights dimly shine down on the friends and strangers who’ve gathered here to play. Even though it’s chilly outside, most are warmed up and sweating. Four square is pretty simple, it has four people, four squares and one ball. So the players add rules to make things interesting. Sometimes everyone has to jump up and down, dance or spin in circles to get dizzy. Player Uriah Finley says a popular rule is to call categories.

URIAH FINLEY: People will call countries in the world, types of bird, things that live
under the sea, breakfast cereals, Saturday morning cartoons. And basically whenever you
hit it you have to call out one of said things.

Finley joined this weekly four square game when it started a year and a half ago.

FINLEY: Mostly it’s a good fun-based game but there’s definitely some skills
involved and finesse and style. There’s just a lot of tricks. Um, Lee’s kinda the trick shot
guy, he’s standing right there. Hey, Lee!

He’s calling to Lee Bothwick.

LEE BOTHWICK: My favorite shots are the ones where it comes to me and I kinda like
let it slide off my fingers and it gets a little spin on it. Hopefully away from the player
you’re hitting it to, so they have to run after it and look really silly. You can hit it really
hard, that’s always cool.

These guys say that four square fits into something called the urban playground movement. The movement comes from this idea—as adults we’re missing out on something. Kids walk onto a playground and can befriend anyone with a ball, sidewalk chalk or a jump rope. As grown-ups we often limit ourselves—we hang out only with people we know, commute in silence and socialize online. But not these guys. Sam Wong founded the Rockridge Bart game.

SAM WONG: I would say that the community that’s been built up here really is one of
welcome and inclusion and of silliness.

Now, urban playground groups are organizing games all over the Bay Area. They play capture the flag at Oakland City Hall, have pillow fights by San Francisco’s Ferry building and play Four square at the Bart station. They say that taking over these adult spaces brings back the spontaneity of the playground… but without bullies.

TRAVIS MUNN: A lot of us are now friends outside of four square; it’s been a good way
to meet people, you know it’s not an easy thing to meet people these days.

Travis Munn comes almost every week to play and has seen what four square can do for people’s social lives.

MUNN: There’s definitely been some four square romances. Actually, now
that I think about it, like half the friends that I hang out with now are all four square friends. Who knew?

From his square, Finley adds another benefit.

FINLEY: It’s free, that’s definitely a big plus and I think in today’s world,
that’s a factor.

Anyone can join in and between five and thirty people show up to play every week. And, that’s just in Oakland. In cities all over the U.S. people are playing four square in public places. Some are even getting competitive. In fact, there’s even a four square world championship which takes place on February 27th in Bridgton, Maine. Player Sam Wong.

WONG: I don’t think that any of the Cali cats have been able to put together the money or the will-power to go all the way to Maine in the middle of winter to play four square. It’s a dream though, it’s a dream. We do want to go to nationals.

If they don’t make it to Maine, they can be found at the Rockridge Bart parking lot, every Thursday night at 9pm.

Reporting from Oakland, I’m Dara Kerr for Cross Currents.

By Dara Kerr on Wednesday, Feb 24, 7:34pm

1 comment:

  1. I totally remember playing four-square in elementary school.

    But I don't actually remember *how* to play it.

    I can actually remember the day in first grade when our teacher brought us out onto the playground and taught us the rules. Because, you know, as first graders, we were new to the big-kids playground, having been restricted to the kindergarten playground previously.

    Hilarious. Makes me want to go to Cactus and watch them. YUM.


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