Throughout one’s years, one will remember many things. For Fords, one unique school tradition is benchball. Former Head of School Dr. Joseph Cox dedicated the new court, just west of its original location, now occupied by the “rounders” next to the upper school office suite. Like so many things that struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, benchball disappeared for a year and a half.
Until March 2020, benchball allowed students to take a break from school during lunch, free periods, or downtime during the day. When classes went online in March 2020, benchball went largely forgotten. The new court represents a memory, made distant throughout our time online.
With the emergence of a new school year came a rebirth of benchball.
English teacher Louie Brown ’15 is the person responsible for the revival of benchball. After teaching a lesson about tradition through the English III novel The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Brown thought that the revival of one of our school traditions would help students connect with the way the title character was feeling. The English class was happy to learn the rules, and Brown was happy to teach them.
“While I was at Haverford, I didn’t appreciate [benchball] enough,” Brown said. “It was a really fun game; I loved it. I started playing when I was a freshman; back then, it was a lot more popular than it is now. It was definitely a little more established back then.”
While benchball helped further the teachings of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Brown acknowledges that there was not a specific defining moment.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I was going to bring benchball back to Haverford because it’s a great tradition,” Brown said. “I just love the game.”
Students soon began to follow, especially Fifth Former Joey Pennewill. “He really done a lot of work to bring [the game back] and he’s playing it a lot,” Brown said. “That makes me happy, and it’s a nice sort of side effect, but really I just wanted to play benchball for myself.”
To Brown, benchball “was an aspect in school culture I felt I could really be a part of—not that I felt apart from the school culture in other ways. I had a good home here. But benchball was something I did purely for fun and for no other reason than to have fun during my free periods.”
Brown acknowledges benchball’s uniqueness.
“Compared to some other school traditions, I think that benchball relies a lot more on upperclassmen just playing it,” Brown said. “The underclassmen see it and are like, ‘What the heck is that game?’ and it’s more student-spread.”
Benchball played a major role in Brown’s life.
“It was crucial in the sense that it just stuck with me, and I have always wanted to just keep on playing,” Brown said.
One summer when Brown was a camp counselor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, he tried and failed to introduce the game to a new community. “I found some benches on campus that you could move around and make into a square, but it was right in the middle of a walkway, so when I pitched the activity to my boss she [declined] because it was in the way of everything,” Brown said.
Brown’s students hope to be able to inspire other students new to the game. Such Haverford traditions must be passed on and down through underclassmen. It’s our turn now.