Swiss sport tchoukball catching on in central Ohio

JEFFREY SHEBAN The Columbus Dispatch Published:

UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio (AP) -- Peace, love, understanding -- tchoukball.

Growing numbers of central Ohio students are getting acquainted with a feel-good team sport invented by a Swiss biologist 40 years ago that is popular in Canada, Europe and Asia but virtually unknown in this country.

Tchoukball ("CHOOK-ball") is equal parts physical fitness and social engineering, with an emphasis on sportsmanship and problem-solving.

Played mainly indoors on basketball or handball courts, the game involves throwing and catching a ball, and scoring points by bouncing the ball off pitch-back nets at each end of the court.

One place where it is catching on is the Wellington School in central Ohio, where middle- and high-school students play the game in gym class.

"Anything that gets a student to see beyond ... (his or her) own little world is a positive," said Robert Brisk, head of the school.

Physical-education teachers Dave Herrick, Bill Miller and Trent Neely discovered the sport during an education conference in 2008.

"I was looking for games for us to play during our international week," Herrick said, "and we thought it would be a good one to bring to our kids. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly positive."

The game has proved so popular with students at the private school in Upper Arlington that it has earned a recurring spot in the phys-ed curriculum.

"It's really fast-paced, and there's no contact, so pretty much anybody can play," explained seventh-grader Cyrus Lloyd, 12.

Here's how it works:

-- Players can possess the ball for no more than three seconds and are limited to three steps before having to pass or shoot. The team on offense has a three-pass limit before being forced to shoot the ball at one of the rebound nets. The offense scores if the other team can't catch the ball before it hits the floor.

-- A player gives a point to the other team if he or she misses the rebound net when shooting; if the rebound sends the ball out of bounds; if the ball bounces back and hits the shooter; or if it bounces off the net and into the forbidden zone, a 3-meter arc around the net.

-- Defenders can't physically impede the offense.

Other central Ohio schools where tchoukball is played include Marburn Academy on Columbus' north side, Jones Middle School in Upper Arlington, Kilbourne Middle School in Worthington and Pleasant View Middle School near Grove City.

"If it were up to the kids, I feel like they would play it every day," said Jen Holdridge, the athletic director and a phys-ed teacher at Marburn Academy, where the game was introduced in 2009.

The game's inventor was Hermann Brandt, a scholar and physical-fitness buff with strong humanitarian values who wanted to develop a nonaggressive, injury-free sport that could be enjoyed by all. Teamwork and positive social behavior were among his goals.

Brandt, who died in 1972, composed a charter for how the sport should be played, insisting that there be no taunting or primping.

Among his admonitions: "From victory, one can derive satisfaction and even joy but never exaggerated pride."

He continued: "The joy of winning should provide encouragement; whereas arrogance in victory carries within it the seeds of struggle for prestige, which is condemned as the source of common conflict among humans."

World powers in the sport include Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. The game doesn't yet have much of a U.S. infrastructure.

The head of the governing body -- the U.S. Tchoukball Association -- is a Swiss national who recently moved from Seattle to Italy.

Pierre-Alain Girardin, 55, said by e-mail that he has promoted the sport in the United States since 2002, primarily through phys-ed programs in schools.

High-minded aspirations aside, tchoukball is fun, fast-paced and easy to learn, according to Wellington students.

"You just chuck the ball at the net," offered 12-year-old Lucas Palmer, red-cheeked after a recent tchoukball session with other seventh-graders.

Redd Ingram, 13, said the game appeals to him as a great workout without the bumps and bruises common in most other team sports.

"Being competitive just ruins sports for me," he said. "Anyone who puts their whole heart in the game will like it."

Because of the ban on physical contact and overt intimidation, tchoukball is an ideal coed sport.

"It's more like a safe sport, and I'm not a person who wants to get hurt," said Neelu Paleti, 11.

"In football, you try to go for the quarterback," she added, "but here you just try to go for the trampoline."

Ami Kounta, 13, noted that Americans' image in the world would improve if more people played tchoukball.

"We're known as couch potatoes," she said, breathing hard after a match.

"But if you like it enough, I think it would keep you from being a couch potato."

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com