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6 Obscure Sports To Try This Summer

Summer is here, which means it's time to start playing outside as much as possible. Are you tired of all the old summer standby sports, though? Sure, baseball and volleyball are fun, but sometimes you want something just a little, well, weirder. This summer, take a chance on one of these obscure sports.

1. Bossaball
Surprisingly originating in Belgium and not a Nickelodeon back lot, bossaball finally answers the question of why no one ever thought to make hybrid of volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, and the Brazilian fight-dancing capoeira and then played said hybrid on an inflatable court outfitted with integrated trampolines. Basically, the sport is played much like volleyball, except contact can be made with any part of the body, each side can touch the ball eight times before knocking it back over the net, and serves can be made via kick. Also, one player on each side is the "attacker" and bounces on the aforementioned trampoline, which enables him to fly up for huge spikes with his hands or feet. Like in volleyball, teams get one point for making the ball drop on the opponent's side of the court, but this score jumps to three points if the ball lands on the trampoline. Sound confusing? Check it out for yourself (this video's shot indoors, but it's also common to see the court blown up on beaches):

2. Ga-ga
According to Wikipedia, ga-ga is a dodgeball variant that probably originated in Israel. Much like a good mixed martial arts bout, it's contested in an octagonal ring surrounded by walls known as a ga-ga pit, and, again, much like a good MMA bout, it's popular at summer camps. Basically, the game is played in much the same way as the dodgeball with which you're probably familiar, but with a few key differences. Players don't catch the ball; instead they smack it open-handed and let it careen around the octagonal pit. To start the game, players bounce the ball three times, repeating "ga" with each bounce then running towards it to try to make the first kill. Additionally, they're aiming for a lower area on their targets; players are only out if they get hit at or below the knee. Leaving the pit or touching the ball twice without it hitting the wall or another person earns a quick DQ. Here's a look at a game:

3. Underwater Hockey
The NHL's popularity is waning, so maybe they should catch up with the times and replace their icy old rinks with pools. As the name implies, underwater hockey (also known as octopush) is like ice hockey in a pool. A lead puck is dropped to the bottom of the pool, and teams of six players in masks, snorkels, and fins maneuver it towards goals at opposite ends of the "rink" using small sticks. Unlike ice hockey, underwater hockey's a non-contact game, though, so don't' expect any brutal checks into the pool's wall.

Englishmen Alan Blake invented the sport in 1954, and its popularity has since spread worldwide. This video from Singapore gives a pretty good idea of what it's all about:

4. Mountain Unicycling
Unicycling is great and all, but isn't it just a little too easy? You can barely turn your head without seeing someone who scoffs at bicycles in favor of going everywhere on a single wheel. Such would seem to be the logic behind mountain unicycling. The name is in no way misleading; it's a sport in which riders climb and descend hilly trails on their unicycles. These intrepid souls ride specially designed unicycles that have cushier seats, fat mountain bike tires, stronger frames, and longer cranks. Proponents say that it's not as dangerous as it looks; since unicycles don't have multiple gears, they don't fly down hills as quickly as mountain bikes and are easy to bail off of in a pinch. The enthusiasts in this video say they enjoy the sports because it's more difficult and technical than mountain biking on sophisticated modern bikes, although even with their experience, you'll see them take some pretty tough spills:

5. Wife Carrying
There's no more auspicious beginning for a sport than to start out as a joke, and wife carrying has somehow made the leap from laughable oddity to legitimate sport since its inception in Finland. Originally designed as a play on the legend of men courting women by grabbing them and running off with them, wife carrying is a form of racing in which a man totes his wife (or other female partner) through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. For all the silliness of the endeavor, the rules are fairly technical. The couples pass through a 253.5-meter course complete with a water obstacle and two dry obstacles, and any husband dropping his wife is docked 15 seconds. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms, otherwise she is given a weighted sack to make up the difference. If you can make it to Sonkajarvi, Finland by July 4, you can still compete in this year's world championships. The sport still has a sense of humor; first prize is the wife's weight in beer. Or check out the video first; this style of knees-over-the-shoulder positioning is known as an "Estonian carry."

6. Pesapallo
Wife-carrying isn't the only odd summer sport the Finnish people enjoy, though; they also have their own variation of baseball known as pesapallo. The game, which was developed by Lauri Pihkala in the early 20th century, is ostensibly similar to baseball, although watching it would be totally disorienting for fans of America's pastime. For starters, the bases don't form the familiar diamond; instead, first base is where third base would be in American baseball. Second base is roughly where it would be in American baseball, and third base is then located on roughly the same line as pesapallo's first base, but deeper in left field, which means that running the bases requires zig-zagging all over the field of play. Furthermore, there's no pitcher's mound. Instead, the pitcher stands to the opposite side of the plate from the hitter and tosses the ball up in the air; the hitter then swings as the ball descends. The pitch is a strike if it goes a meter above the batter's head, then lands on the plate without being hit. Catching a flyball doesn't score an out for the defense, and if a batter doesn't like the ball he hits on his first or second strike, he doesn't have to run and can keep batting.

Despite all these differences, though, it's easy to tell the game is a cousin of baseball, and it looks like a lot of fun:

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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History
Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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