Alexander Hoover awarding medals to Hoover-Ball competitors.
Published On: May 17th, 2024Categories: Events, History

What’s Hoover’s Hometown Days without the Hoover-Ball National Championship? This participation in an activity rooted in presidential history started in 1988. It was this point in time that the Hoover Presidential Foundation revived a game that disappeared for the 55 years since President Hoover had left office in 1933. With his departure, the game quickly fell from popularity and remained an obscure historical reference until one fateful summer in West Branch, Iowa.

Since then, the Iowa prairie town has hosted the Hoover-Ball National Championship during Hoover’s Hometown Days, and Whitney’s Wings, a West Branch non-profit, coordinates the event. The tournament draws participants from across the region and around the country. Albuquerque, New Mexico has their own league. Recently, we even received an inquiry of participation from Spain.

The game isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s best described as volleyball with tennis rules using a medicine ball. It’s a workout. It’s what you would expect in middle school PE, when your teacher is missing equipment and out of ideas. The difference is this is a lot of fun.

“Two teams of three players heave a six-pound leather ball back and forth across an eight-foot high net. This cannot be accomplished graciously.” – Sports Illustrated

Before we get too far, it’s important to understand its roots. Prior to Hoover’s inauguration, he took a trip to South America for his good neighbor tour. While aboard the USS Utah, Hoover watched a game of medicine ball tossing called bull-in-the-ring, which became the inspiration for Hoover-Ball. The game itself was invented by Hoover’s personal physician, Admiral Joel T. Boone, to get the President in shape.

Willing or not, we can’t verify, cabinet members, advisors, a Supreme Court justice, and a journalist were on the White House lawn six days a week at 7:00 am to heave a medicine ball over a net to stay trim with the President. They became known as the “Medicine Ball Cabinet.”

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover-Ball with the Medicine Cabinet in 1933.

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover-Ball with the Medicine Cabinet in 1933

“The effect is that of a group of travelers tossing their luggage at a boat that has just pulled away from the dock, only to have the crew toss it right back again…. Four hours of this in 90-degree temperatures is no nap in the Oval Office.” – The Des Moines Register

Since its revival, it has developed a cult-like following. Men, women, and children gather, practice, and order matching shirts for the tournament. Crowds congregate and cheer. Eventually, the winners are determined and formally presented with medals for their achievement. The official men’s and women’s Hoover-Ball trophies are affixed with plates bearing the team’s and team members’ names for posterity.

2023 Men's Hoover-Ball Champions

2023 Men’s Hoover-Ball Champions

The rules and parameters to Hoover-Ball are straightforward. The balls weigh four pounds. The nets are eight feet high. Scoring is done the same as tennis. For the national championship, teams field three players with one to two alternates. Don’t drop the ball. Be a good sport. Of course, there is more to it, but that gives you an idea of what is happening. We encourage you to watch this introductory video of a game to get a better idea.

Traditionally, players hang out after the game in West Branch to kick back and enjoy the surroundings. There will be food trucks and restaurants available for dining and refreshments. Like many sports, there is a camaraderie that develops among participants.

2023 Women's Hoover-Ball Champions

2023 Women’s Hoover-Ball Champions

If you’re a fitness enthusiast, a weekend warrior, or missing your glory days of intramural sports in college, we encourage you to register, practice with a medicine ball, and take part in this wonderful tradition. If that doesn’t sound like you, you will still have a lot of fun watching the tournament. There are a lot of additional activities surrounding the event at Hoover’s Hometown Days, which makes the day a terrific experience for both players and fans.

Click here to register for the Hoover-Ball National Championship.

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