No question, footbag is sport for new generation

Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:54 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

One thing every generation of young people has in common is their popular music’s ability to frighten and confuse the older generation.

Baby boomers lamented their parents’ denouncement of rock ‘n’ roll as noise and not music.

Today, the baby boomers say the same thing to their children about hip hop. Of course, younger generations maintain their folks just don’t “get it.”

Although I’m not old enough to fear popular music, I must admit to being a bit closed-minded about sports. I’m obsessed with basketball, baseball and football, but I often argue that figure skating, synchronized swimming and horse racing are not sports. In fact, I almost had a seizure the first time MU senior Jonathon Coulson said he considered Hacky Sack a sport.

I made it my personal mission to prove him wrong.

John Stalberger and Mike Marshall invented Hacky Sack, also known as footbag, in 1972 after Stalberger had knee surgery and needed a way to increase his flexibility.

When most people think of Hacky Sack, they think of footbag freestyle, which is the more artistic version of the game. This version essentially consists of one or more people using their feet to keep the footbag airborne. Ted Martin set a world record in 1997 with a ridiculous 63,326 consecutive hits in nearly nine hours.

Footbag net, believe it or not, requires tremendous athleticism. Imagine playing volleyball with a 5-foot net, except you have to spike, set and dig a footbag with your feet. It’s a combination of soccer, volleyball and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

“It’s easy to look down on Hacky Sack,” Coulson said. “You don’t understand the immense amount of skill that goes into it. I feel much more balanced when I walk around, like I can carry myself better now that I play it.”

Hacky Sack has become increasingly competitive, but most devotees still play the game for fun.

“When I stood at the bus stop over the summer in Kansas City, everyday I’d throw the (footbag) into challenging places and try to keep it going,” Coulson said. “It’s a good way for people to get exercise who don’t otherwise have enough time.”

Much to Coulson’s surprise, the footbag scene in Kansas City is a friendly one.

“People would walk by and just kind of jump in and ask to play,” he said. “I guess that’s one cool thing about it. There are so many people who hate it, that if somebody is willing to play, most of the time they’re a pretty decent person and you don’t have any qualms about letting them play. At the bus stop, I had people drive by and compliment me just for playing.

“I think people have noticed it going on and have seen it. I think this ridiculous, negative perception of it is slowly going away. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people play. Like I said, I wouldn’t have played if you asked me two years ago, but now I love the hell out of it because I gave it a chance.”

According to Coulson, Hacky Sack’s biggest misconception is that only marijuana smokers play it.

“You have to remember something; even potheads usually won’t play,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about Hacky Sack that makes people not want to play, but there’s definitely a stigma.”

Like most stereotypes, though, there is some truth to Hacky Sack’s association with marijuana.

The Rasta Bob Memorial Hack Club in Russellville, about 30 miles south of Columbia, is dedicated to the group’s beloved footbag, the late Rasta Bob.

Sadly, Rasta Bob was tragically scorched in the microwave when its owners attempted to dry it. The club’s members have reincarnated Rasta Bob as, according to club contact James Gleason, “a 3-foot bong named Rasta Bob 2.” And no, I’m not making this up.

Rasta Bob is the only compelling evidence I have against Hacky Sack as a sport. It hurts me to say this, but I was wrong. Hacky Sack is a sport.

I just don’t think I can convince my grandma.

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