LIVESTRONG.ORG: The Origin of Tetherball
This is my site Written by Alex on May 29, 2011 – 11:56 am   

Sometimes the articles I write are just fun. Like this one for LIVESTRONG.ORG.

What Is the Origin of Tetherball?

What Is the Origin of Tetherball?


Tetherball is a summer mainstay of campers, revelers, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of the movie “Napolean Dynamite.” The activity of smacking a ball tethered to a string around a pole until the string wraps itself completely around the pole while another person tries to smack the ball to wrap the rope around the pole the opposite way has a cloudy history and murky origin, however.

Disputed History

Tetherball is recreational fun, but it’s not an official sport sanctioned by any governing body or committee. That makes finding reliable information about its history daunting. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some gruesome and interesting ideas about its origins.

Early History

One plausible idea—albeit one lacking any hard proof—about the origin is that in the ninth century the Tartars would fasten a conquered opponent’s decapitated head onto a rope, attach it to a pole and whack it back and forth for fun. According to a blogger named Remainderman who has an affinity for the game and its history, the pole, incidentally, is said to have been called a barber pole, derived from the word barbarian.

Maypole Origins

Maypole dances were a ritual to celebrate the spring harvest. Residents of a village would gather around a tree or a pole and grab garlands and ropes dangling form the tree or pole. Tetherball could have evolved over time into the playground activity it is today based on how closely the court resembles the setup and physical composition of maypole dances. The resemblance is so close that in 1954 “Popular Science” magazine started a story about tetherball by saying, “Cross volleyball with a Maypole dance and you’ve got a good fast game—tetherball.”

Modern Times

More likely, but not as fanciful as having been invented by barbarians or as an offshoot of a pagan ritual, tetherball was invented after volleyball, in 1895. That’s because early tetherballs were volleyballs attached to a rope. In its 1954 article, “Popular Science” laid out game rules, instructions on fastening a volleyball to a rope and measurements for building a court. While still not an official sport, there was a tetherball tournament in 2007 that attracted 80 participants to San Diego. Napolean Dynamite would have been proud.

Alex O'Meara

About this Author

Alex O’Meara has been a writer since 1987. He has worked for the “Baltimore Sun,” City News Bureau of Chicago, “Newsday” and NBC, among other media organizations. O’Meara is the author of “Chasing Medical Miracles: The Promise and Perils and Clinical Trials.” He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Long Island University.

Article reviewed by Craig Gaines

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.