Ann Arbor Was Once Home to the Long-Forgotten Sport of Spaceball
If you have never heard of the sport of Spaceball, you are not alone. Invented in the 1960s by the creator of the trampoline, George Nissen, the sport picked up a small underground following but never really took off despite being called, "The best conditioning exercise for space travel" by NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter. An interesting fact about this little-known sport is the Ann Arbor, Michigan was one of the last places you could play Spaceball.
What is Spaceball?
Combining the elements of basketball and volleyball, Spaceball utilizes a trampoline as its court. However, this special Spaceball trampoline tilts vertically on each end so in addition to bouncing on your feet, you were able to fall backwards and rebound just as easily. It's almost as if you were flying through space! Hence the name "Spaceball."
There is also full-size net between you and your opponent, so the object of the game is to propel yourself forward and toss your ball through the hole in the center of the net. If your opponent does not catch the ball in time, the thrower scores a point. A pretty simple concept but I'm sure playing Spaceball quickly becomes exhausting!
In the '50s, an Ann Arbor man named Don Botsford owned and operated the city's first private fitness club called "Gymkana" at 415 S. Maple Road. Believed to cater to popular trampoline exercises from the East, Gymkana got its name from the Latin word "Gym" plus the Persian word "Kana" with Gymkana used as an Indian term for a gymnasium/gymnastics club.
Botsford essentially operated a space similar to the popular trampoline parks like Airborne Adventure or the Sky Zones we see in Kalamazoo today. For only 50 cents kids could visit Gymkana and bounce to their heart's content, which included playing Spaceball! According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Botsford and several members of the Gymkana club even traveled to New York to demonstrate Spaceball for Sport's Illustrated photographers.
Return of Spaceball
Unfortunately, Botsford closed Gymkana in 1986 and the Spaceball court sat in storage until 2009, when Don was able to realize his dream of opening his own nature preserve to the public. Don put the Spaceball court together once again and all were welcome to play! Sadly, Don Botsford passed away in 2011 and the status of the original Spaceball court is unknown.
If you're interested in playing the game yourself, they were recently selling them on the home goods website Hammacher Schlemmer here.