By Madelyn F. Young
Special to the Daily Journal
At the far end of the playground, the boys' shouts arose amid billowing clouds of dust in a whirlwind of excitement. The game they called "Shinny" was in full swing, with sticks and legs colliding wildly in the frantic battle. A crumpled tin can was the object they pursued. Each player struck at the makeshift "ball," one boy trying to hit it into the center hole they had dug, the others attempting to block his shots by sending the can skittering out of the playing area.
The game was aptly named. Every few moments, a stick would accidentally whack a shinbone. The hapless recipient would jump up and down, yelping and clutching his leg. Then he'd stop, yank up the leg of his overalls, examine the bruises, see if there was any blood, then quickly get back into the action. It would be "unmanly" to stay out of the game for every long!
To outsiders, the game appeared quite dangerous. But there were definite rules which all Shinny players understood. Only straight, smooth sticks from the woods could be used no jagged, crooked ones with knobs. No strikes could be made above ground-level. Deliberately whacking an opponent was not allowed. When the player who was "it" was able to get the can into the center hole, he then had to take the can and hit it as far as he could out of play. All the defensive players who had been standing with their sticks in a circle of individual holes surrounding the center hole would have to take their sticks out of their holes and run to a distant tree and back. Meanwhile "it" would take his stick and claim one of the holes in the ring. The player who was last to return would become the new "it." He had to use his stick to retrieve the can, then work to get it back into the center hole. While defenders were using their sticks to try to keep the can away from the center, "it" could also try to get his stick into one of the defenders' holes. If this happened, that defender had to become "it."
Recess time at the little rural school was indeed a showcase for male bravery in competition. No girls would ever dare to consider joining in such a melee, which also made the game an ingenious device for excluding the weaker sex, their classroom rivals.
My husband laughs when he recalls these daily skirmishes. However, I'm wondering if there hasn't been a holdover. He's older now and retired, but he is still enjoying a sport which I believe is nothing more than a refined game of Shinny.
Every morning he and his cronies do battle. Instead of dirt, their playground has become a well manicured lawn with green fairways and smooth greens. The sticks they swing are certainly more expensive, made of titanium and graphite. And it's not a crumpled can they hit, but a little white ball. However, the point of the game is still to hit the object into the hole. They may not swing their clubs wildly around each others' legs, but the competition is still very intense, and if a shot goes awry, yelping is still allowed. Girls can play now, but usually the boys still play with the boys.
I think there's a lesson to be learned in all of this. We are all still just kids at heart, and the games we play don't change much. Isn't life grand!