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Hooverball In A Great Depression Ex-President’s Game Not Very Popular

Sun., Aug. 3, 1997

President Herbert Hoover might not be too competitive in modern Hooverball, the game he invented to keep his weight under control.

But Hoover wouldn’t care.

“It was never a serious thing for him,” said Scott Sailor, the promoter who brought the game back to life a decade ago. “The camaraderie was the thing more than exercise.”

What Hoover would care about, Sailor said, is keeping the game alive.

Hooverball, the heaving of a heavy medicine ball back and forth over a volleyball net, vanished when Hoover left office in 1933.

It was revived in 1988 for a tournament at the Hoover presidential library in West Branch and has been held every year since. At the height of its popularity five years ago, 52 three-member teams competed.

But the game has stumbled. Fourteen teams showed up last year, and just nine pre-registered for Saturday’s tournament, which coincides with Hooverfest activities at the Hoover National Historic Site.

Backers, including the West Branch Chamber of Commerce, agree the game is a hoot, but they also want to preserve it as a reminder of Hoover’s civil approach to politics.

“It’s not just fun and silly, and it is silly,” said the chamber’s Deb Owen. “It consists of heaving a ball over a net. That’s it. No skill required, which is part of the appeal.

“It’s a good time, but Hooverball is also a way to connect with a living, breathing Hoover,” she said. “You may not be able to relate to him as a presidential figure, but you can relate to him as a man by playing his game.”

Hoover entered office in 1929 weighing about 200 pounds. With the aid of his game, which he played wearing street shoes, long pants and jacket, he weighed 185 four years later.

Sailor, a former employee at the library who now lives in Austin, Texas, said people need to “follow Hoover’s example.”

“Especially now when politics is such a partisan thing,” he said. “Hooverball brings us back to a time when things were simpler and perhaps better. Remember, it wasn’t the best of times for Hoover and it wasn’t the best of times for the country. But there was civility in politics.”

Hoover invited friends and foes to play his game, spending half an hour at it every morning on the White House lawn.

“If Hoover could take half an hour out of each day, despite his problems, maybe we should all step out and do the same,” he said.

The game is played with a medicine ball - a chunk of lead wrapped with stuffing. Balls weighing four pounds are used in men’s and women’s divisions. There’s also a six-pound division for the big boys.

Hooverball commissioner Doug Stahl, a competitive bench-presser whose teams have won most of the tournaments over the years, said one reason the game has suffered is that it was kicked off of Hoover historic site grounds, apparently because it didn’t mix with Hooverfest’schildren’s and historic activities.


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