Playing on the lawn, it would seem, is an almost primal passion that dates to the beginning of civilization. The oldest sport on Earth? Possible. Consider these stories, explaining the origins of four popular lawn games:
Sir Flinders Petrie, a well-known British archeologist, reportedly unearthed the tomb of an Egyptian child and discovered various rounded objects, which he assumed had been used in a primitive game of lawn bowling that we commonly know now as bocce.
Lawn bowling was reportedly so popular in the Middle Ages that many kings, from Edward III in 1361 to Henry VIII in 1541, specifically prohibited artificers, labourers, apprentices, husbandmen, servants or serving-men, and other low-born people from participating in lawn bowling. The peasants, he feared, were wasting too much time playing in the grass.
We cant think of a better reason to have a lawn in the first place, or a better reason to grow the grass organically, without any products that could harm the backyard athletes of all ages. And, meanwhile, if youre curious about bocce, check out the official site of the United States Bocce Association, complete with history and rules.
Like so many of our lawn games, the modern sport of croquet came to America by way of France and England.
Originally called pall mall, this target game was eventually called croquet after the French word for crooked stick. A Brit, Walter Jones Whitmore, is credited with standardizing rules in his book, The Field, that was published in 1868. His countrymen embraced the game with such passion they formed the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1877. Today, we know the site better as Wimbledon, home of the worlds most prestigious tennis championship.
Having a nice lawn was key to the sports popularity from the beginning. You can find all the rules you want from the United States Croquet Association. The general idea is to carefully aim your ball so that it rolls through each wicket in succession a sort of golf-meets-billiards game and the first player to roll his or her ball through all the wickets is the winner.
Everyone in America knows about the nations favorite lawn toys, the Frisbee flying disk and the Wiffle ball and bat. Did you know, however, that both games originated just a few years apart in the tiny state of Connecticut? A baker named William Russell Frisbie, who ran a shop at 363 Kossuth Street in Bridgeport, Ct., embedded his name in the bottom of his pie tins. Students at nearby Yale University took to tossing the metal tins though the air hollering out frisbie as they threw. In the early 1950s, when the Whamo toy company released their flying saucer, they borrowed the bakers name, with only a slight modification in spelling.
Meanwhile in Shelton, Conn., David N. Mullany, a former semi-professional baseball pitcher, had a problem: his 12-year-old son was constantly in trouble for damaging school property with errant baseballs. David Jr. tried swapping hard balls for tennis balls, but those still put a hurt on the surrounding buildings. He tried playing with his fathers small plastic golf balls, but those only flew straight and took the curveball out of the pitchers repertoire. Thats when David Sr. came up with an idea.
He had a friend who used plastic half-balls as cases for makeup. By gluing two halves together and cutting slotted holes on one side, he eventually came up with a whole new creation: a ball that easily made batters whiff, slang of the day for striking out. Hence, soon after the Frisbee arrived on store shelves on its way to American lawns, the Wiffle ball and bat were not far behind.
Paul Tukey is the founder of Safelawns.org. See all his Organic Lawn Care Tips.
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