Just one president has a sport named after him

Obama plays golf and basketball, and a lot of former presidents have played sports. But none has achieved the naming rights of this 1930s chief executive.

Hoover presidential library and museum
Hurlin’ herbert: President Hoover played ‘Hooverball,’ part of his fitness regimen, on the White House lawn in February 1933.

Sure, President Obama plays sports (golf, basketball). He talks about sports (he's pushed for a college football playoff). He's even lobbied for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics.

But, historic as Mr. Obama's presidency is, here's a height he has yet to scale: He hasn't had a sport named after him. And that means Herbert Hoover's place in sports history remains secure.

What? You thought maybe there was a President Lacrosse you'd never learned about? Herbert Clark Hoover, the shortish ex-mining engineer who preceded the Depression, remains the only US chief executive with an eponymous athletic activity.

It's called Hooverball, and it's sort of a cross between tennis and heavy construction. But first, the back story:

Herbert Hoover didn't like formal exercise. Campaigning for president in 1928, he gained some 20 pounds. So after Hoover won the election, White House physician Adm. Jole Boone invented a game to keep the new president physically fit.

He laid out a grass court, sort of like tennis. He strung a high net across it, as in volleyball. Then he gave two teams a six-pound medicine ball to throw back and forth.

If you didn't catch the ball on the fly, you lost the point. Scoring was on the tennis love-15-30-40 scale. Given the ball's weight and the amount players had to run, they used pretty much every muscle in their bodies.

Modern participants have described Hooverball as similar to catching sacks of Redi-crete thrown from an overpass, or attempting to toss a frozen turkey over a garage.

Hoover loved it, apparently. At least he played it a lot – pretty much every day he was in Washington, except Sunday. Games began at 7 a.m. and ended at 7:30. Teams were made up of an inner circle of advisers and administration officials, known as the "Medicine Ball Cabinet." Perhaps the best player was Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone. He'd played football at Columbia, so he was something of a ringer.

Here's the best part: People still play Hooverball, at least at Hooverfest, the annual celebration of Hoover's life held at his presidential library in West Branch, Iowa.

This year's "Hooverbowl" (Decoder just made that term up) was the 22nd such contest, held Aug. 1. "It's the national championship," says Pam Freeland, administrator of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association. "We had 23 teams."

"Most players were Iowans. Winners of the women's division were the Heave-Hos. Winners of the men's six-pound-ball division were Hoover Envy."

And has Ms. Freeland ever played Hooverball? "No, no, no, no, no," she says. "That is for the younger people. I would break every bone in my body."

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