A Super Ball is a synthetic rubber toy invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingley and manufactured by the toy company Wham-O. It contains the synthetic polymer polybutadiene, hydrated silica, zinc oxide, and stearic acid. Vulcanized with sulfur at 165 degrees Celsius and formed at a pressure of 3,500 psi Super Balls have a high coefficient of restitution. They can snap back ninety percent from the height their dropped from. Thrown with thrust they can leap over a three-story building.
Super Balls were a fad toy in the mid to late 1960’s. At peak production, 170,000 were produced per day. By 1965 over six million were sold.
1966, The American Football League founder Lamar Hunt watched his children playing with the bouncy balls. He coined the term Super Bowl from the name Super Ball. Several years later, Wham-O made a Super Ball the size of a bowling ball as a promotion stunt. Dropped from the 23rd story of an Australian hotel, it inadvertently destroyed a convertible car on its second bounce.
I hear a light tapping sound at the bedroom window.I look over at Karl’s bed and notice the pillow underneath the sheets and blankets where he should be.
He taps again.
“Alright, alright,” I say tiptoeing to the window trying not to wake Mike.
I turn the crank to open the steel-framed window. The screen is hidden in the closet. One of us seems always to be gone at night and sometimes both of us.
I look at the clock. It’s 1 AM. I was out earlier and the fog was dense.
He hands me a bulging shopping bag and says “I have four more.”
I notice the first one is filled with cigarettes.
He then hands me the others – two more are filled with cigarettes, one with sweet tarts and the other little colored balls.
Karl crawls through the window. He’s wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and sneakers. We don’t talk and we hide the shopping bags in the closet careful not to make any noise. Mom’s more than a light sleeper.
The next morning on the way to school, Karl says “I liberated two vending machines last night.”
After school, we count the stash.
One of the bags contains 10,000 sweet tarts, three are filled with 200 packages of cigarettes, and the other is stuffed with 928 Super Balls. We eat some sweet tarts and contemplate what to do with the loot.
“I think we can get rid of the cigarettes for a quarter a pack,” Karl says. By the end of the week the Salems, Pall Malls, Tareytons, Marlboros and Viceroys are history. We split the $50 and share the candy with our friends. It takes a month to get rid of all those sweet tarts.
We have fun with the super balls experimenting with different heights; throwing them off the roof and off the walls. We practice artillery fire aiming for targets and see how far they can go. Super balls are cool. They bounce and bounce and bounce, but after a couple of days we’ve tired of the bouncy balls.
The remaining bag of now 873 super balls remains hidden in the back corner of the closet accumulating dust behind our toys we’ve outgrown. In no time, the bag is completely forgotten.
Karl graduates from High School that year and moves to the dorms in Isla Vista. He’s been accepted into UCSB as a Physics major.
Three years later at the end of my senior year, I realize I have a dilemma. I’m going to be moving out and what do I do with the 873 Super Balls in the back of my closet. I reach into the bag and notice how grungy the balls have become.
At school the next day, my homeroom teacher announces that we’ll be having an all-school assembly at the end of the week in the basketball gym.
The gym floor recently has been refinished giving more bounce to the basketballs. I think to myself this could be a fun place to free some super balls. After school that day I call my favorite accomplice John to strategize. He comes over and looks at the balls.
“Where did you get those Kurt?”
“Oh, we don’t talk about that,” I say. He picks up one and says,
“They’re kinda tacky. How about we take them over to my house and run them through the dishwasher.”
John’s mom is a school teacher and doesn’t come home until after 4:00.
After running through the dishwasher they look like new.
“They may not bounce better, but they won’t stick in our hands,” I say.
John and I separate the 873 balls into forty paper lunch sacks taking the excess for ourselves. The next day we distribute the bags to forty of our friends during lunch. The plan is to store the bags in their school lockers until immediately before the assembly whereupon we will spread ourselves along the east side of the court.
“How’s this going to work again?” Dave asks.
“I’ll cast the first ball and then you start throwing your balls. This ain’t rocket science,” I say. “Just get them out there as fast as you can.”
The next day is the assembly. We congregate outside by the Sentinel cannon as planned. We file in with the other students spreading ourselves in the bleacher. The school band plays as we file in.
I sit to the side of the podium ten rows back and watch as my friends carrying their paper bags sit in their designated positions. The polished basketball floors gleam. The band stops playing and the unfortunate-named Principal Siemen walks on stage. He taps the microphone three times and says “Hello, is this thing on?”
I reach into my bag and take out a handful of the balls. With one hand full and the other hand going for more, I thrust three balls at a time with full extension. The onslaught begins. A cascade of Super Balls soon falls on the court around the podium. It doesn’t last ten seconds as planned. The torrent rains down on the poor principal for at least sixty seconds.
At one point, he steps back off the stage and ducks out of the paths of hundreds of bouncy balls. Within sixty seconds, the rush of balls stops for a moment. But then once having hit the wooden gymnasium floor they rebound gaining ninety percent of their height and momentum carrying them forward again and again and again.
Now students are out of their seats trying to grab for the balls as they come across the gymnasium. They return them back to the other side. My hands now empty, I sit back and watch. Time slows down as the beauty of the arcs of balls crosses the auditorium like waterfalls.
Principal Siemen stands afar rendered powerless. Where did the first one come from? Who could he blame? The entire assembly is now culpable.
The band starts playing and the balls stop bouncing. I don’t think this incident was mentioned again.
This was my grandiose exit from Magnolia High. It gave me no toriety.