Hooverball: A Mercersburg (and Presidential) Tradition

Wednesday, April 15, 2020
The Smith family (Jen ’97, Nora ’24, Cole ’23, and Doug) on their
backyard Hooverball court

Feeling a bit sedentary in your lifestyle during these quaran-times? How about a game of Hooverball? 

Medal of Honor recipient and Vice Admiral Dr. Joel T. Boone (1909), the namesake of Boone Hall on campus (which previously stood on the site of the Burgin Center for the Arts), was the White House physician during the presidency of Herbert Hoover. He noticed the president had gained a bit of weight (in part, Boone speculated, due to a lack of exercise), so Boone modified a game called “bull-in-the-ring”—popular on naval ships at the time and played with a medicine ball—and Hooverball (sometimes styled as “Hoover-Ball”) was born.

Hoover’s staff and invited guests (including a number of Cabinet members) gathered every day of the week (except Sundays) at 7:15 a.m. for about a 30-minute game. Today, with all of us working, learning, and doing just about everything from home, my family** heads outside at noon every day for a spirited game of Hooverball.

**All four of us are connected to Mercersburg Academy. My wife, Jennifer Miller Smith ’97, is the school’s academic dean; our son, Cole ’23, is completing his ninth-grade year; and our daughter, Nora ’24, will enroll as a member of the ninth-grade class in the fall.

We typically play to 10 points, and it usually only lasts 15 minutes or so, but getting up and outside and moving around has been great for all of us. Dr. Boone was quoted as saying that a half-hour of Hooverball is equal to three times as much exercise as tennis and six times as much as golf. (While I am not a physical-fitness expert, I am the head golf coach, but—and far be it from me to doubt the most decorated medical officer in the history of the U.S. armed forces—those numbers seem a little on the high side to me.)

Hooverball has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the last few decades. There is now a national championship, and it has become popular among the CrossFit community. And it’s a lot of fun; I invite you to join us in playing. Enjoy!

Video: How to play Hooverball

Buy a Hooverball online

Photo of President Hoover courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

President Herbert Hoover enjoying the sport that bears his name

Hooverball Rules Used by President Hoover

  • The court is 66 feet by 30 feet.
  • A six-pound medicine ball and eight-foot volleyball net are used.
  • Teams consist of two to four players. (For the national championships, teams of three players are used.) Each team may have one or two substitutes.
  • Scoring is exactly like tennis. Teams play best-of-five or best-of-seven games.
  • Points are scored when a team fails to catch the return, fails to return the ball across the net, or returns the ball out of bounds.
  • The ball is served from the back line. The serve is rotated among one team until the game is won. Teams alternate serving after each game.
  • The ball must be caught on the fly and immediately returned from the point it was caught. There is no running with the ball or passing to teammates.
  • Each team’s court is divided in half. A ball returned from the front half of your court must be returned to the back half of your opponent’s court. If the ball doesn't reach the back court, the opponent is awarded the point.
  • A ball that hits the out-of-bounds line is a good return.
  • A player who catches the ball out of bounds, or is carried out-of-bounds by the force of the ball, may return inbounds before the return.
  • A ball that hits the net on its way over is a live ball. (If it was thrown from the front court, it must reach the opponent’s back court to be good.)
  • Teams may substitute at dead-ball situations.
  • Women serve from the mid-court line.
  • Women may pass once before a return.
  • Women may return the ball to any area of the opponent’s court.
  • Good sportsmanship is required. Points in dispute are played over.