Those Wonderful Robust Outdoor Games We Played in Our Youth

During my years at Henry Johnson School in the early to mid 1950s, I played numerous outdoor games at recess and at home, several of which would be deemed too rough for schools to engage in today.

Let me escort us down memory lane by recalling a few of my favorites. As with most childhood activities, the rules varied considerably.

Dodgeball: This was my favorite. We divided into two teams of equal number of players. Team A formed two parallel lines several feet apart. Team B positioned themselves inside the two lines. The contest began when alternately each side of Team A began throwing a large ball toward Team B players. If the ball struck a person below the shoulders (a requirement), he or she came out of the contest. The last person standing was declared the winner of that team. The circumstances were then reversed with Team B forming two lines and Team A moving to the middle. This was good exercise and a lot of fun.

Red Rover: Two teams were selected and formed parallel lines a few feet apart facing one another and holding hands firmly. One side selected a person on the opposing team and shouted: “Red Rover, Red Rover, send (Bobby Cox) right over.” Bobby then left his post and ran as hard as he could toward some perceived weak spot in the opposing team’s line. If he succeeded in breaking through the human chain, he picked one person from that team to go back with him to his team. If he failed to break through the line, he joined that squad. This pastime had no losers because ultimately everyone ended up on the same team or they quit.  

Red Light, Green Light: One individual served as a human traffic light. Game players stood side by side about 25 feet away. The challenge began when the “light” shouted “green light” and immediately turned his/her back to the others. Everyone ran toward the “light.” Then, the “light” shouted “red light” and immediately wheeled around toward the challengers. Anyone caught moving even slightly after the “light” turned red was ejected. The signaler alternately said “green light” and “red light” allowing the pursuers to advance. Players had to pace themselves in order to freeze when the light changed. The first player to touch the “light” while it was green became the “light” for the next game. The “red light” was declared the winner if all pursuers were ejected. 

Crack the Whip: Six or more people formed a straight line by holding hands. The head person was the leader and the rear person was the caboose. The game commenced when the leader began running like crazy pulling his/her human train first in one direction and then in another. The leader and caboose were the only ones permitted to use both hands. The leader’s goal was to sling people off the train. Those who lost their grip were evicted from the train and the others then regrouped and continued their wild journey. The game’s fun was two-fold: trying to hold on to the train and making a noticeable spectacle of yourself when you were slung off.

King of the Hill: This was typically a boy’s game that was played on a mound of dirt or on a small hill. One person was chosen to be “king of the hill” by utilizing the “one potato, two-potato” method of selection. Then, one at a time, each player climbed the mound to physically dethrone the ruler by hurling him off the hill within a prescribed amount of time. If the attacker was successful, he became the new ruler. If not, the game continued until someone claimed the honor. There was no ultimate winner in this game, just a bunch of dirty, fatigued youngsters trying to demonstrate their wrestling might.

Today, we aging “youngsters” of yesteryear can only lament about those carefree days of our youth when we engaged in robust outdoor pastimes, rarely getting hurt.