Oh, my god!!!!!!! I cannot believe I have found this site. Skelly was my all time favorite street game growing up in the Bronx, though I first learned the game during the short time my family and I lived in the Edgemere projects in Far Rockaway in the mid-60’s. They called it skully there, skelly in Co-op City, but no matter the name, it was so much fun! I moved to Rochester, NY 8 years ago, and no one has ever heard of it, their loss. I am going out as soon as I can, get some sidewalk chalk, and draw a skelly board on my driveway come this spring…….Maybe I can teach these hicks up here what a good game looks like……… Thanks to the webmasters, and the creators of this website, you have brought back a flood of great memories for me, and I am going to pass this along……
A HOLE IN THE FENCE The Bronx in the late 50’s and early 60’s had much to offer a pre-teen boy with energy to burn. Aside from endless miles of sidewalks to ride one’s bike on at the risk of being yelled at by old ladies sitting out, there were acres of asphalt paved and bordered and subdivided by chain link fence. We called it “the park,” but there weren’t any trees, there was no grass. The playground attached to Public School 121 was my place, my world. Just three short blocks from our brick twin house on Tenbroeck Avenue was a world where structure met exploration. As the school buildings themselves were locked after class time, public school playgrounds also had scheduled operating hours. Each was staffed with someone we called “Parkie” whose job it was to dole out sports equipment and supervise the bathrooms. Parkie babysat the neighborhood and cleaned up the occasional but rare mess or spill. He was the local law with a set of keys as his only weapon. He was after school daycare while mom was home cooking dinner. The sign on the front entry gate in the fence was a classic: It read “NO Skating, NO Running, NO Jumping, NO Bike Riding, NO Ball Playing. This is YOUR playground, enjoy it!” Perhaps the wording isn’t exact, but it’s pretty darn close. It seemed to strangers that our playground was officially off limits to all fun. But unofficially it was the center of our social world. We had a blast! Interior chain link fencing subdivided the whole place. Basketball courts and a towering concrete handball wall each had their own “room.” Just inside the main gate was the playground itself. Here was the bathroom building with a place for Parkie to sit out of the sun and a room for the spongy red dodge balls and checkerboards that he gave out. Word would quickly spread through the neighborhood for blocks in every direction whenever Parkie would turn on the sprinkler fountain head that stood dry for most of its life in the center of a sea of blacktop. Such simple wet fun on a hot city day! A wading-pool sized depression ringed with cast iron fencing held a ton or two of sand to scoop and plow and dig. To the left was a bank of wooden see-saws next to an impossibly high–at least to a nine year old–ladder and slide. The “baby swings” were set off with a low chain link fence just beyond the stacked open cubes of the one-inch pipe monkey bars. Then up a cement ramp into the next room were the real swings. Thick chains that could have come from the docks held up a fat, wooden slab form-fitted with stiff and tough aluminum. Those swings demanded a room of their own and they begged to be abused: stood upon, twisted and released, straddled and hit from side to side to side. And no where to be seen was anything rubber, soft, or shock absorbent. No colors at all other than the silver and gray of metal and concrete and the occasional blood-red of skinned knees. By today’s standards our playground could have been the most dangerous place for children ever built. Dozens of kids with not a cartoon character ride or blanket of soft mulch in sight spent hours each day happily running around. The only supervision–a lone male who had the keys to the bathrooms. And yet somehow both the playground and the kids survived the mutual abuse. Until one day someone cut a hole in the fence. A four foot rip in the chain link through which anyone could enter after hours. Parkie’s locked gate was now useless. Repeated attempts at repair resulted in repeated breaches cut yet again. And eventually the City of New York gave in. One night a crew came and squared up the hole in the fence making it a permanent shortcut entrance to the basketball courts. The main gate that stood locked after dark was now locked in the open position. After a time, broken beer bottle glass was found in the sandbox and it was emptied down to its cement floor. The benches that lined the play area where the occasional young mother sat watching her children run and play had their wooden slats carved deep with endless graffiti and were eventually dismantled. The hard aluminum swings were replaced by rubber slings that could neither be stood upon nor comfortably sat upon. Parkie’s job was lost in a budget cut. The sign posted whose listed rules we loosely obeyed was obliterated with paint from a spray can. That fence had kept the social order of the day. Its detailed, posted rules were the unseen boundries that we all lived by and sometimes tested. It kept the structure that young people need as they explore their limits. But now, the happy and trusting world we knew was gone. There was a hole in the fence. read my stories: www.johnzinzi.com
Our playing field was sandwiched between a five-story Catholic school and a six-story tenement. At the base of the tenement building our concrete stoop was located, protruding about four inches from the sidewalk and about three inches back toward the building; it was no more than a foot in length. Practice and precision were the key elements. Hitting the point of the stoop with that gum-colored spaldeen produced nasty line drives that were extremely difficult for the infielder to handle. However, not ever hitter found the point that easily; one had to master the stoop to constantly catch the point–striking the point with the ball was an art in itself. The field was cobblestone blocks (the old city streets before the tar paving), and the grounders were tricky. Infielders developed good hands and good instincts staying with those hard grounders that could shoot upwards toward your face anytime, scooping those grounds off the cobblestone was another skill in itself. The Catholic school was across the street from the stoop and hitter. When we would play with only one or two guys on a team (Not running bases), we’d use these rules: a line drive to the first floor of the school was a double; a drive to the second floor a triple; and, a shot to the third floor a home run. However, if the fielder caught the ball as it ricoceted off the school BEFORE it touched the ground, the hitter was out. But, when we had enough guys to play running bases (usually about five players on a team), we had to resort to the regular rules of baseball. The most beautiful thing about our stoop, though, was that it was next to the corner candy store. A spaldeen, a few kids around, fifteen cents in your pocket, a Saturday–you couldn’t ask for anything better.
It’s nice to know there is this comraderie of being brought up in Da Bronx. My story might sound a little different. I grew up in the Classon Point area which is a several miles West and South of Castle Hill. There were no number named streets just Randall,Soundview,Beach,Commonwealth,and along with playing ringoleaveo,cracktop,skully,touch football,johnny on the pony,schoolyard basketball, I remember going to Worlds fair and “Freedomland” which was bigger than Disneyland and is now where co-op city is. I also remember going fishing for porgies,fluke,flounder,eels,blackfish,bluefish, stripers and went crabbing during the winter in the Bronx and East Rivers. We would throw them back and keep only the fish(Stripers) we caught further east on the sound.(I don’t know if any of this wildlife is there today.) We hunted pheasants with a bow and arrow(probably illegal) in the many open areas that were still wild in this area in the late fifties and early sixties. My neighbors were the best and consisted of the Archettis’LoContes’,Diazs’,Gorshoffs’Hodges’,Freemans’ to name a few and they were of Italian,Black,Puerto Rican,Irish, Columbian,Jewish, German heritages,a beautiful mix and everybody new each other and their kids. My mom would speak Spanish to our Italian speaking neighbor and they would understand each other. This is a part of the Bronx that had “Shorehaven”,Harding Park,Seven caves,Rubys, Genes’,Classon point yacht club, and the Beach Theater. Our wood frame houses on St. Lawrence ave. were in the area of several projects and one of the oldest sections in the area going back to farming days in the Bronx. We were right across the East River from Shea stadium and from my roof I could see the lights of the stadium as well as the Empire state building and the Twin towers when they were being built. I went to P.S. “69” which is built like a World War II memorial with gorgoyle heads of soldiers looking down at you. The school had painted over asphalt floors in the stairwells and ground floor that had years of high heel marks in them. It had a schoolyard perfect for pitch count stickball played with a chalked in strike zone against a wall. Can’t question a strike when the spaldeen has chalk on it!!
Skully comes to Massachusetts! See http://www.geocities.com/chesler.geo/Woburn/woburn_skully.html This morning I demonstrated Skully to my daughter’s kindergarten class at the Charles Goodyear Elementary School in East Woburn, Massachusetts. See http://www.geocities.com/chesler.geo/Woburn/skully_goodyear.jpg and http://www.geocities.com/chesler.geo/Woburn/skully_mahoney.jpg My most optimistic hope is that the game spreads virus-like through the school and the rest of the community. If this is not the northeasternmost Skully board in existence, it may be the most colorful. I used dimensions suggested in Hugh M. McNally’s rules here but "about a square foot" seems awfully big. Even for kindergarten beginners I reduced it to 8″ by 8″ and that seemed big. If the board is only 4′ on a side, 1′ boxes would meet! My recollection from Co-op City was a board no more than 4′ on a side, and boxes maybe 4″ or 6″ on a side. I don’t recall numbers in the Skull, nor did we play much more than a straight race 1 to 13 and back. It wasn’t a particularly popular game in the 1970s — paddleball was popular, and there were enough grassy areas that sidewalk games took a backseat. For the mathematically-inclined, I did use the rope-stretcher’s 3-4-5 triangle (with a tape measure and a metal yardstick, not knotted ropes) to lay out the square.
I started on the Grand Concourse in the early 60’s and never stopped having fun after that. Stickball, Skellies, Johnny on the Pony, Kick the can, watching the greasers and the new hippies stare each other down. My twin brother and I were nice Puerto Rican boys in an Irish / Jewish neighborhood. All my friends were Shemtobs, McNallens, ORielly, Buffa, Mehan, Schwartz. It was great, I learned a whole bunch of different cuss words. We had fake wars with sling shots and bottle caps. We would explore boiler rooms and roof tops and would make flashlights out of Bean cans with a lit candle burning the tin till it was too hot to hold. We could watch the parades on the Grand Concourse from any stoop on the street, All the US flags would wave from the windows. We had about 30 kids playing stickball on Marcy place and many of us would roof spaldings atop PS 88 on Sheridan. It was the perfect Stickball Street. We could also open Johnny pumps with a stickball bat and a coat hanger and spend hours grinding bean cans on the concrete to get the tops off.(boy were we dumb) We also built scooters with old metal skates and old milk boxes. Build tunnels in the mountains of snow that was built up by sanitation. We would sing Beatles tunes to our 3rd grade girlfriends and run like heck when they tried to kiss us. We all formed the Bronx Super Heroes club. I was 007 – James Bond and my brother Karl was Robin “The boy blunder” Between all the Bronx buildings were miles and miles of alleys and basements were we all would explore. We also would walk on Jerome Ave. to go Ice-skating or go to the Concourse hotel to see Mickey Mantle as well as the Original NY Giants in the winter. Then one summer every one moved to co-op City and from that time on it was never the same. That was until I discovered Handball and life in the Bronx was good again 🙂 I live in Dallas now and doing well. My kids are popular here because they are from the Bronx. It’s cool here. People don’t know whether to love us or hate us. In any event, when we have to be heard, no one stands in our way. Thank you my Bronx. I could not imagine my life without you in it. You are now in me and I will share you with all. We miss you all! Schools: PS, 44, 88, 90, 67, Catholic: Christ the King, Sacred Heart HS (Don
hello, my name is Steve Mercado. Chairman of the Board of The New York Emperors Stickball League. I, along with 2 other gentleman, devised and wrote rules & regulations for our league in the Bronx over 8 years ago and to this day those rules & regulations are the bible of stickball played in the street with 8 men on the field. We are in the process of constructing our web site at bronxpages.com and plan on a huge year 2000. Thx! We have our annual fundraising dance March 18 in Coop City.
Where I grew up we had the absolute PERFECT set up for Kick the Can!!! I grew up in Co-op City, the Bronx NY (http://welcome.to/coopcity) in the late 70s. It’s a cooperative community full of 33 story buildings with pillars that supported the second floor above the lobby. Since the lobby wasn’t that big, it left a maze of pillars to sneak behind. Then to top it off there were long expanses of retaining walls and man-made hillocks to belly crawl behind. It wasn’t really Kick the Can anymore….not the way we played it. It was WAR! There was a circular metal drain in the exact middle of the courtyard just outside the lobby. The building’s sides were a V surrounding it (with the pillars, don’t forget the pillars!). The can was placed on the metal drain. The one of the benches in the courtyard was ‘Jail’ and the person that was ‘It’ had to stand outside of the octagonal brick work that surrounded the metal drain. (It was perfect! We couldn’t have set it up better ourselves!) ‘It’ would face away from the building, cover their eyes, and count to 20-30 and we would scatter under the building. The trick was to maneuver your way to the pillars closest the can with out being seen by ‘It’. Goodness was that hard! Once ‘It’ saw movement all they had to do was identify who it was and which pillar they were hiding behind. “Tap tap tap! I see so-and-so behind the third pillar!” Not only did you have to tap the can on the metal drain but you had to scream “Tap tap tap…” at the top of your lungs. Lucky for us, most of the time they ID’ed the wrong people. Come to think about it…..we were some awfully honest kids. We wouldn’t play with someone if they didn’t come out when they were legitimately caught. Given the fact that all that was needed was a proper ID, you couldn’t talk lest they pin point who you were and where you were hiding. But inevitably some stealthy and swift footed kid would free the slower ‘Jailed’ kids. If not, and we gave up (all the players were NEVER caught) the first kid would get to be the next ‘It’. I’m tellin’ you it was perfect! So much so I never came upstairs when the street lights came on. And my mother always yelled at me for that. God forbid if I came home with grass stains all over myself. Diving for the ground so that you wouldn’t be spotted will give you plenty of grass stains that’s for sure! I want to thank the webmaster for this forum! I’ve enjoyed it immensely!