Sports Column: Will Spikeball or OmegaBall be the next sports craze?

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, December 3, 2023

As a fan of sports history, and history in general, the evolution of the relationship between Americans and sports kind of fascinates me.

In the 2020s we take it for granted that sports seasons coincide with those on the calendar. You can plan your life around the college football schedule in the fall, and the sound of a baseball hitting the mitt is synonymous with spring and summer.

It’s strange to think, then, that this is a fairly recent phenomenon. For roughly the first 100 years of this country’s existence, organized leagues did not exist.

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Major League Baseball had gained a strong foothold by the early 20th century, but football did not come close to achieving the same level of popularity for few more decades. Basketball wasn’t even invented until 1891, and the NBA was not formed until 1946.

Some form of soccer existed for centuries in many cultures — not surprising, considering its simple core objective of kicking a ball into a goal — but it seems no one thought there was a market for organized nationwide leagues until about 1850.

Maybe travel between cities was too difficult, or maybe our forefathers were too busy farming and fighting bears to worry about throwing a ball around a playing surface.

Of course, wrestling bears was its own sport, so perhaps they simply found that more exciting. The World Bear Wrestling Federation probably drew huge crowds for its annual Ursamania event.

Wondering what sports our ancestors played crossed my mind one night while scrolling through the deep cable universe and seeing bizarre variants on familiar games.

Airing on one of the ESPNs was Spikeball, which is like volleyball except you hit the ball down onto a small trampoline instead of over a net.

Another channel had something called OmegaBall, which is soccer with three teams playing simultaneously. They play on a small, circular field with the goals set up along the edges, and teams can score against any of their opponents. It was actually pretty exciting, at least for a few minutes.

A highly athletic, parkourized version of the children’s favorite tag was buried on a Fox Sports regional channel.

We’re always inventing and tweaking sports to find a better version. Some of them seem like the product of drugged-up ESPN executives looking to fill a 1 a.m. time slot, and the credibility of their rankings is one step behind those of the old World Bear Wrestling Federation, but people were probably saying similar things about pro soccer and baseball leagues in 1870.

And considering how certain sports have waned in popularity over time — when’s the last time you saw a proper chariot race or tug-of-war showdown? — who’s to say one of these made for deep cable sports we laugh at now won’t be the most popular game around by 2075?

Tug-of-war used to be an Olympic medal event. Why not Spikeball? For all we know, there’s a 6-year-old watching it on TV now who will win a gold medal at the 2044 Summer Games in Miami.

Guess we better learn the rules. It took 100 years for Americans to create a baseball league, but high school Spikeball leagues are probably being formed right now.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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