The Farm Chronicles—New Year’s Eve and Farmball

Growing up on the farm was a lot of hard work. It seemed to never end. Waking up early in the morning before school and head out to the barn in cold weather to feed and water the livestock, clean stalls and then eat breakfast and get ready for the school bus. Summer was slightly different, but you still had to get up early. Substituting for school were other chores, like making hay, combining wheat and oats, mowing pastures. It never ends. So when we had a little time on our hands, we would try to find something to get into. Sometimes, that was playing farmball. Now farmball could be a form of basketball or football or baseball. But the rules were modified greatly for the number of participants or the weather or equipment.

In the summer to fall months, I often loved dressing up in my brothers’ football gear and making believe I was them. Chuck played in high school and college. Larry was a high school standout. These guys were strong, fast farm boys and they knew how to compete with the best of them. I wanted to be like them. Only trouble was, at such a young age and my brothers being 9 and 14 years older than me, I often had to play alone. Imagine how it is throwing yourself the football. I guess it made me faster, trying to catch my own passes. As I got older, my friend Sonny would come over and we would spend hours playing catch and “broadcasting” our moves for the TV audience. We would take turns being Roger Staubach or Bobby Hayes or Bob Lilly or LeRoy Jordan or Calvin Hill (get it that we were cowboys, so we were Cowboys fans?).

New Year’s Eve at the farm, Sonny would come over and we would have some friends from school sometimes. We would go out in the horse barn and play farmball. The center ally in the barn was ten feet wide by 60 feet long, with a hard, compacted dirt floor. The doors at each end were the goal lines. No out of bounds. Tackle only. You could make two first downs. Throwing a pass was difficult because the ceiling of the barn was only about 14 feet. But if the ball bounced off the rafters and somebody caught it, it counted as a complete pass or interception. Probably one of the first “Arena” football venues. We would be bruised and bloodied up big time at the end of the night. And we were really sore the next day. Many championships were fought, won and lost in that barn.

Isaiah 22:18 recalls the judgment of the evil servant Shebna, “He [The Lord] will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country.” Commenters agree that Shebna was in the hands of the Lord like a ball in the hands of a strong man, and would be hurled out of his place–thrown at a great distance by a strong arm. In 1911, Park H. Davis wrote what is known as the first history of football—”Football: The American Intercollegiate Game”–where he claimed: “This allusion, slight as it may be, is sufficient unto the antiquary to indicate that some form of a game with a ball existed as early as 750 years before the Christian era, the epoch customarily assigned to the Book of Isaiah.” I’m pretty sure God loves football, and I bet that it’s cousin, farmball, is played across America more than people would admit. We the have scars to prove it.

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Bill Wilson