Retro Sports

The way we spend our recreational time constantly changes, and to spice it up we often return to old classics, like lawn bowling, badminton, croquet and kickball. People are looking to socialize and be active without the intensity of other sports, which may be why there’s renewed interest in retro sports.

Less taxing and more relaxing are great reasons to seek a slower- paced game. Joe Flannery, a physical therapist from Tidewater Physical Therapy, says that as we age, risk of injury increases every year. “Sports that involve rapid starting and stopping places increased forces on our bodies thus increases risk for injury. Golf, lawn bowling, pickle ball and bowling leagues are team sports that are less stressful on the body,” he says.

Another benefit is the intergenerational play—with a slower-paced game, there’s the opportunity for older people to share a beloved sport with their grandchildren. Behind the Williamsburg Inn, there is a beautifully kept bowling green for lawn bowling. The green has been there since 1966 and the local lawn bowling club uses it for regular play and tournaments. Talk about retro—there’s historical evidence that bowling was played in Jamestown and Williamsburg in the 18th century!

“One of the best things about it is that it’s a very gentle sport. You don’t have to be big, strong or fast, it’s a game of finesse instead. It can be played well by older or very young people,” says Jack Edwards, the vice president of the Williamsburg Inn Lawn Bowling Club.

A greenkeeper from the Williamsburg club staffs the green every day from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Inn during the season. “We show them how to play and get out of their way. They don’t need a lot of instruction or time. Plus, there’s no new skills, equipment or instruction needed,” says Edwards.

The social aspect of retro sports seems to have huge allure.

“That’s the appeal—lawn bowling is fairly easy to play competitively and socially. They play, converse and laugh at the same time. There are not a lot of sports where you can do that,” Edwards says.

For younger people, joining a kickball league may be a throwback to the playground, but it can also be a social event to meet others in their 20s and 30s. Five years ago, James Maxlow, 37, of Newport News, Virginia, went to see a kickball game with friends who played—and the next season, he joined.

“In the initial season, the strongest draw for me was the social bond in our team and with the other teams; it would be a few seasons before I came to love the game itself by appreciating it on its own merits,” says Maxlow.

Maxlow, a member of the WAKA kickball league in Newport News, says that teams have a wide range of ages and athleticism.

“Most teams have a mix of those that play for the athletic experience and those that play for the social experience. The nice part is that anyone that can comfortably run around a field can play no matter their age,” he says.

While kickball, and sister sport dodge ball, hail back to gym class, other classic sports, like badminton, croquet and archery, enjoy sporadic popularity.

James City County Sports and Athletic Coordinator Angie Sims says that patrons have requested family kickball, as well as senior dodge ball. Sims says that racquetball, bocce ball, horseshoes and cornhole are other slower-paced sports back in vogue.

Sometimes it’s a pop culture influence that leads people to a new way to play. “Archery is huge right now—mostly due to the Hunger Games and Brave—but also due to the outdoor/environment movement that is sweeping the nation,” she says. There’s no lack of options for staying active, so find a new (or old) sport that works for you!

Joseph Sobekis is credited with inventing the modern sport of racquetball in 1950. The court’s walls, floor and ceiling are legal playing surfaces. It is very similar to 40—20 handball, which is played in many countries.

The beginnings of badminton can be traced to the mid-1800s in British India, where it was created by British military officers stationed there. Early photographs show Englishmen adding a net to the traditional English game of battledore and shuttlecock.

Bocce Ball
Throwing balls toward a target is the oldest game known to mankind. As early as 5000 B.C. the Egyptians played a form of bocce with polished rocks.

Modern versions of this
classic sport use a more
stylized U-shaped bar which
is about twice the size of
an actual horseshoe.

Lawn Bowling
The sport of lawn bowling can trace its North American beginnings to the 17th Century when English Colonists brought the game to the new land. A bowling green was built in Williamsburg in 1632, where the game is still played today behind the Williamsburg Inn. In 1670, Colonel Hoomes built a green on his estate at what is now Bowling Green, Virginia. Many of the new states named a town after this ancient sport played in England since the 12th Century.

Pickle Ball
The game started during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Congressmen Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum. After coming home from a game of golf one day to find their kids bored and restless, they set out to create a game that would engage them through the lazy days of summer. They handed the kids ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball, and lowered the net on their badminton court.

Invented 1917 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Originally called “Kick Baseball” American World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle reported it being played by U.S. soldiers during the Tunisia Campaign, 1942-1943.

The cornhole game history is older than many people know. It is also a history that is much disputed. It is believed that when the Germans first immigrated to the United States of America that they brought the game here. Over time the game has gone through some transformations, but it basically is quite similar to the original game. It is also said that the game was “rediscovered” in Kentucky in the 1900’s.

About the author

Natalie Miller Moore

Natalie runs Moore than Words, a health communications consulting firm in Williamsburg. She loves to learn and write about health, particularly relating to patient experience and research.