ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Almost as fun as kickball

Saturday , August 23, 2014 - 12:51 PM

It’s like being in grade school all over again.

Back when I was a kid at Valle Vista Elementary School in Southern California, there was really only one thing about school that I truly hated.


While the vast majority of the school day was both closely supervised and highly structured, recess was the exact opposite — the complete and total breakdown of any semblance of civilized society. In fact, I’ve always pictured the impending zombie apocalypse as just one great big worldwide recess.

Oh, sure. One of the teachers was always assigned to be “recess monitor.” But keeping an eye on a couple hundred kids spread out over acres of playground equipment was a fairly daunting task. For the most part, it was like “Lord of the Flies.” Only with jump ropes and monkey bars. I think it’s fair to say that everything I learned about life, I learned at recess. And mostly, I learned that life is just plain cruel.

Singer-songwriter Janis Ian got it right in her achingly beautiful song “At 17,” when she wrote: “And those whose names were never called/ When choosing sides for basketball.”

Except in my case, it wasn’t basketball. It was kickball.

Every day at recess, a group of fourth graders would gather near the backstop at the far end of the playground to play kickball with one of those maroon-colored playground balls.

The two best athletes in the group would invariably end up team captains, and they’d take turns choosing — one by one — the members of their teams. In the end, it always came down to me, standing there alone, hoping to be chosen. I know you think I’m lying because it’s such a cliche, but honest to goodness, I was that one kid who always got picked last.

No, wait. That’s not exactly true. I didn’t get picked last; because I didn’t get picked at all. Most of the time, my fate was decided by whichever captain suddenly realized they’d come to the end of the draft and could shout “You got Saal!” fastest and loudest. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, sometimes I was part of the delicate negotiations of competitive recess play — “Fine. We’ll take Saal, but we get an extra out.”

After which I would quietly walk out to take my place in deep, deep right field.

These childhood memories all came flooding back to me this past week as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge spread like wildfire across social media sites. ALS is short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And the Ice Bucket Challenge is a clever fundraiser in which folks videotape themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, then post it to social media, challenging others to do the same and make a donation to the ALS Association.

It seems that everyone — from celebrities and athletes to truck drivers and housewives — was getting challenged to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. Everyone, that is, but me.

At least, that’s the way it felt as I watched, one by one, those around me picked to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. And still I remained. Warm. Dry. Totally unwanted.

Finally, toward the end of the week, two friends took pity and issued the challenge to me. I was just so happy to be chosen for something — anything — that I didn’t stop to think it meant I’d be dumping freezing cold water over my head.

Wanna see my Ice Bucket Challenge video, and the folks I challenged? It’s at

And for those of you who still haven’t been challenged, I feel your pain. And I’m ready to help.

Here’s the deal: If you wanna be a part of the fundraising fun, but haven’t yet been challenged by someone, shoot me an email with your intention to donate, and I’ll do the challenge all over again — this time calling you out to join in the freezin’ for a reason.

And then maybe we could all get together and play a little kickball.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at

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