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Before there was Bashball: SLUH alumni reflect on Wall Ball, the biggest sport of SLUH’s past

The rec room used to be a lot different from what it is now. Alongside the pool and ping pong tables there used to be metal hoops that lined the walls, utilized for a sport from days long ago: wall ball. Wall ball, which used to be the biggest thing at SLUH, was a game that everyone played when they had a few minutes of free time. But eventually the popular pastime had to go when one student almost lost his finger playing.

Going around today and asking students if they know what wall ball is, or that it used to be played at SLUH, very few would even know that one day it was constantly on the mind of students. Still, remnants of the past remain in the rec room. A walk down to the rec room today would mean that students and faculty alike can see the duct tape that covers where the hoops used to be. A remnant of a time when SLUH was a different place.

“Nickel,” a voice rang out across the hall as a student frantically emptied his pockets searching for one to give to the nearest teacher. Others gathered around the soda or ice cream machines and chatted while arguments broke out over ping pong tournaments or pool games. The sound of students dribbling red playground balls echoed against the walls. Forty years ago, the rec room was a different place in a different era.

Instead of pool tables lining the hall everywhere, there was more open space along the far wall where students could play wall ball. More than 20 small metal hoops lined the wall, these hoops were basically metal food cans with no top or bottom. The one big court in the hall had a metal hoop a few feet higher than the others, and ran perpendicular to the smaller courts. 

To play wall ball, there was only one rule: get the ball in the hoop however possible.

“There were always a few games going on. It was whenever guys had free time. They were down there and it was pretty rough, I mean, in a good way. It was a lot of fun,” said Allen Narkiewicz ’95. “It was basically basketball with no rules, or just whoever can dunk the ball in that thing with these little red rubber balls, that's a basket. So however you got there and whoever's in your way, they would do whatever they could to stop you. So yeah, it was a pretty good time.”

After the games would end, students would hurry to class in order to be on time. With sweat being the physical reminder of the intense battle that had just occurred. 

“It was fun. It was something to do to pass the time. I mean, you'd be all sweaty, but we didn't care about going back to class all sweaty if it was in the middle of the day,” said Narkiewicz. 

Wall ball was something that was a ‘SLUH thing’. After students left the building, wall ball wasn’t something that they could just go to the gym and play if they wanted to. They had to wait until they were back in the building in order to squeeze the next game in. 

“It, as far as I knew, had been at the school for 100 years, it was a huge tradition,” said Narkiewiecz. “You would just go down there, blow off some steam and have fun with your buddies, and when you go to an all guys high school, having some traditions like that, that have been around for 100 years, it was pretty cool that you could participate in something unique to the school. It kind of felt like one of those things that you'd see in the movies that they would do in these old schools, the kind of things that would happen in the Northeast schools, but we had it. We had our own tradition in St. Louis, which was a pretty neat thing. It seemed like something they’d have in London.”

Today, wall ball at SLUH is just a mystery, a set of old rumors and whispers of what used to be but is no longer. Many may ask how such a big game could disappear practically overnight, the answer: the degloving of one ring finger. 

“I was in my last semester of my senior year. And I hadn't played much wall ball for a few years. But at the time I was down there with a friend of mine named Joe McGuire. We decided to go down and play sort of for old times sake. We had our class rings on, and I don't think we had played since we got our class rings at the end of our junior year. The very first thing we did was go down to that tall court and I walked down and dunked the ball,” said David Narkiewicz ’93, Allen’s brother. 

After not playing for a long time, David was a bit rusty, so when he went up to dunk the ball, he came down with a nasty scar instead of a point. 

“And as soon as I dunked it, my ring got caught up in the rim and really tore up my finger pretty badly. It sort of skinned it was almost like a banana peel and we immediately realized what had happened,” said Narkiewicz. 

Waiting for the ambulance to arrive on the scene, AP US History teacher Tom McCarthy sat and waited alongside Narkiewicz while what was left of his finger bled profusely.

“I remember Mr. McCarthy, who is still there teaching today. He sat with me the whole time while I waited, which was great,” said Narkiewicz.

A quick ambulance ride to Mercy Hospital that day sent Narkiewicz into surgery immediately. Luckily, the on the spot surgery was successful, and a bit over a month later, he had regained full functionality of his finger. 

Coming back to SLUH, the rec room was different. Wall ball was no longer available to play, and after a while, the rims were taken down completely, leaving nothing but a concrete wall and some duct tape over the screw holes to remember the 100 year old tradition. 

“I think as they were taking me to the hospital, they put up signs, I don't know if it was that night or the next morning or day, but they put up signs saying wall ball is no longer available. And at some point in the weeks or months after they took down the rims entirely and that was the end of wall ball,” said David. 

A daily reminder of wall ball for Narkiewicz is him being able to look down at his finger and see the big scar that lines it

“I'm good now though,” declared Narkiewiecz. “I just have a nice scar that gives me a story to tell. It looks like there's an extra line on that finger.”

Even after his injury, Narkiewiecz still loves the game of wall ball, and was sad to see it go. 

“Yeah, it's funny, like I said, wall ball was an absolute blast. I loved playing it. I would play it today if I could,” said Narkiewiecz. “So no hard feelings about anything other than I feel a little bad about ending the tradition.”

 

 


 

 

 

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