Gaga Ball, Campolo

There’s a new-ish recess game at Immaculate Conception Regional School, which is my current day job. It’s called GAGA BALL. It’s crazy. I love it.
To play Gaga Ball, you put a bunch of kids in an arena-like pit and throw a ball in. It’s so crazy. The object of the game is to hit other players with the ball. It’s the best. So many bloody knuckles and twisted ankles.


  • You can only hit it underhand, and can’t hit it twice in a row. (If I hit it, I can’t hit it again until it bounces off the wall or another player hits it.)
  • If you hit another kid above the waist, you’re out.
  • If you hit it and the ball flies out of the arena, you’re out.
  • When one kid gets out, a new kid jumps in.
  • Play only stops if the ball gets out of the arena.

The rest of the kids line up on the outside of the arena and jeer, holler, and whoop at the players inside. The next kid in line to go in is the INFALLIBLE UMPIRE. It’s in the rules that you can’t argue with the umpire–it’s incredibly important that this rule is enforced to keep the flow of the game AND to instill a sense of duty and justice in our kids.
I can’t tell you how proud I get when I see a meek, awkward, sweaty 5th grader call out a loud, boisterous 8th grader. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s the best game. It’s one of many things that educators dissect and analyze because we are concerned about childhood development.

I’ve seen 6-year-olds figure out that you can “dribble” against the wall to get better positioning.

3rd graders are coming to school with special gloves.

I saw one girl whose strategy is to NEVER BACK AWAY FROM THE BALL because she’ll (almost) always be able to block her legs with her arms. And if she crouches low the whole time, she’ll get hit on the back or the head. She’s fantastic.

But what often happens, because of humanity, is that the loud, boisterous 8th grader will pretend he didn’t get hit and keep playing. If he gets called out, he’ll argue. If more people call him out, because he’s breaking additional rules, he’ll dawdle SLOWLY out of the arena… and then he’ll go to the next place in line, not the end of the line. I’ve seen this happen, and I hear about it from teary 5th graders. It breaks my heart when the other kids allow this to happen because that means that one kid thinks he is more important than 30+ other kids, many of them younger than he.

It’s an incredibly important game. Many kids have quit playing when certain older kids play, even though they love it. They LOVE Gaga Ball, but they tell me it’s not worth spending all that recess time in line.
(I hesitate to send them back and give the older kids a thrashing, but I HAVE had more than a few all-together reviewing of the rules.)

I was reading THE GOD ASK, and came upon a note on Tony Campolo’s sociological study of people over the age of 95. (The takeaway: take more risks.) Campolo was speaking at the 2006 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, and I am unable to find the transcript of his message. (Please help.) But here’s a short take from Christianity Today.

What is the hard truth we need to be prophetically declaring? Campolo (glasses removed and squinted eyes buried in his skull) rebuked evangelical church leaders for being silent on issues like poverty, education, war, government sponsored torture, and economic injustice.

I love this stuff, and not only because it’s so similar to Bernie Sanders’ platform, but ALSO because it’s so similar to what Gaga Ball teaches the kids at Immaculate Conception. The meek 5th grader summoned up all the courage she had to call out an older kid. If you know kids who are just about to enter high school, you know how nasty they can be, especially when they’re surrounded by their peers.

2016 was a nightmare, and I can see my part in it. I did not meet with people in my community who held differing political worldviews–even people that I regularly speak with on friendly terms! I shook my head at atrocity and continued sitting on the couch. I continue to allow oppression, violence, abuse, and injustice to take place in my community and across the world.

After singing Christmas songs, festooning our homes with lights, and celebrating the incredible strangeness of a Savior in a manger, I believe the appropriate next step is to follow convictions and solve problems.

On the other page, I talk about traveling around the world and seeing the outcome of oppression. It’s a similar outcome to what I hear about and see in the Skagit Valley. Gangs, substance abuse, homelessness, exploitation, and other grotesque realities are a globally present for the same reason that people jump out of burning buildings: they’re desperate to escape. And the role of the government (the people) and the church (God’s people) is to make whole what is broken and live justly. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” a million times AND let’s get to work. 

The day after publishing this blog, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote this.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulties facing us. But throughout history, serious people have fought back. That’s where we are now, and that is exactly what we have to do. It is not acceptable—it really is not—for people to throw their hands up and say, “Oh, I’m giving up.” It’s not about you. It’s about the future of this planet. It’s about your kids and your grandchildren. It is about American democracy. It is about some very fundamental issues. You’ve got to jump in and start fighting.

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