Have a (Hoover) Ball in West Branch

President Hoover, second from left, plays his namesake game on the White House lawn in early 1933. Photo  courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

By Michael Morain
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

It’s hard to imagine Washington bigwigs rising each morning to exercise on the White House lawn these days, but there was a time when that was part of the routine. President Herbert Hoover, members of the cabinet and Supreme Court justices tossed around a medicine ball six days a week, rain or shine.

The sport was a popular tradition during Hoover’s four years as president, 1929-1933, and for the past three decades in West Branch, where Hoover grew up. The town hosts its annual Hoover-Ball National Championships during Hoover Hometown Days, happening Aug. 5–6.

Hoover was on a goodwill trip to South America shortly after his election, in 1928, when he spotted some sailors tossing around a soft 9-pound medicine ball aboard the U.S.S. Utah. He jumped in for a few rounds of a keep-away game called Bull in the Ring and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So he and his physician, Dr. Joel Boone, cooked up a similar game back in Washington, where teams of two to four players heaved a ball over an 8-foot net. A New York Times reporter dubbed it “Hoover-Ball” in 1931.

You can learn more about the sport’s colorful history at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museumor jump into a game yourself during the West Branch festival.

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