Dear Sean,
At my school our rules are interesting, so to speak. When I ask my peers about this they say we play "old school." What does that really mean? Thanks, Anson 10/26/2010

Listen, Anson. Old School means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect may be considered old school. 119 years ago, before there was this crazy thing called "basket ball," some dude and his wife worked out the rules of some silly game about throwing balls into apple crates - and since then his hand written rules were sold for crazy amounts of cash. Those rules are old school because they are original and authentic, but the rules of today are very different.

Now, I don't know much about you or your school, but I bet that it's just filled with kids. Kids between 8 and 14 years old, right? Now, you really have to be around for some time before you can claim to be old school. There aren't a lot of old school players out there in the middle school circuit, so your buddies are using some big words. I mean, if you really want old school four square, I know a guy that could tell you some stories.

Age aside, my guess is that your buddies believe themselves to have some claim on the true heart of the game. That might mean they prefer a more athletic game than that of your average school yard. That might mean they don't like to play with "silly kids rules". Maybe they prefer to play on sidewalk squares rather than on rubberized playground surfaces. Who knows?

To get to the bottom of this, you'll have to discover what the game was like when they first played it, and try to figure out what they believe has been lost over the years since then. Has the game been diluted by rules and restrictions - like the stock market? Has it been hijacked and sold back to us by corporations, like hip hop or baking? Has it's integrity been soiled by a bunch of overpaid drama queens - like the New England Patriots?

If you figure it out, Anson, then come back and let me know what they thought old school meant to them.

Maybe I can shed some light on "old school." If your gym teacher is an "old fart" like myself (I grew up in the early 1960's, so,yes, that makes me "old" and qualifies me to answer this blog) than maybe you have been taught some of the original 4 square rules. We learned 4 square by different rules than what I see being played today. For example,

1) We had to stay within our squares to play. No stepping completely out of the squares (one foot had to stay in) or you were eliminated. Somewhere over the years, someone didn't like getting sent to the back of the line by this rule and decided to change it and it caught on so now you can go anywhere on the court, so it seems.

2) Due to rule one, your best move was to make the ball travel low but straight at the person which made it difficult to hit back.

3) Another rule we had was that the ball HAD to bounce in your square once. No hitting it in the air, without a bounce in your square, into someone else's square...that made you out.

4) Due to #2 and 3 above, a defensive maneuver was allowing the ball to deflect off your hands (tap, not catch) or body and into your square once to hit it. Also, along with the no catching rule was the rule that there were no double hits (deflecting the ball with your hands was not considered a hit as long as the ball was deflected into your own square and was not being propelled into someone else's square.

5) Which brings me to the last rule that we played by. Your hands (one or both) were the only thing you could use to propel the ball towards another person's square. Kicks, head butts, etc. were not allowed...after all, this isn't kick ball or soccer, it is 4 square.

So, maybe some of you think there were too many rules back in the old days but I think the game has evolved to what it is now because someone didn't like the original rules and decided to change them and it got passed around and stuck and that's OK too. But if your gym teacher is over 45 and learned the game when he/she was a kid chances are you may be using one of the rules above that are now considered "old school." There are two important things to know about 4 square. The 2nd most important thing is that you talk about the rules you want to play by and everyone knows and agrees to them before you start the game and the first important thing is that you have FUN!!!