Family invents sport to help kids stay active
“We think everybody should be able to be active, whether they’re athletically inclined or not. Cause when you’re having fun, you jump at it,” says Donald Benson, co-creator of Eclipse Ball.
Eclipse Ball is kind of like playing tennis with a volleyball net and a ball the size of a small cantaloupe. The first team to reach 21 points wins in a traditional game. Only the serving team can score points and bouncing the ball is no problem. In fact, it can help you score.
“I usually stand in-bounds and say you can handle the ball twice consecutively and the ball can bounce the ball twice in-bounds," says Donald. "You can handle the ball three times out of bounds and the ball can bounce three times out of bounds.”
Donald and Cheryl Benson live in Newaygo County, about 40 miles north of Grand Rapids. Donald says the county only has 10 stop lights and until their son was 16, they didn’t have electricity. So for fun, the kids would invite the neighbors over to play sports. But Donald says he noticed his kids were getting really discouraged every time they just missed the ball or lost a game.
“I didn’t like the feeling when you play volleyball and you’re the third person to hit the ball and it goes into the net," he says. "I didn’t like the psychological let down for myself and couldn’t stand to see my kids feel that way. So I said, ‘I don’t care how many times you hit the ball over there, just get it over the net.’ And they go, ‘Oh, ok Dad!’ So then they started passing it around with their friends and getting the perfect shot.”
Just like any sport, there are still winners and losers in Eclipse Ball. But the Bensons idea was to have more volleys between players before someone scores a point, so everyone can feel like they’re part of the game.
The ball itself is bigger so it’s easier to see. It’s mostly white, with a large black spot on one side—which is what gives the eclipse ball its name. The Bensons invented the game more than 35 years ago, and since then have made seven other games like it. Cheryl Benson says a lot of schools have bought Eclipse Ball for their gym classes.
“And every once in a while we’ll just run into somebody in a store or whatever," she says. "And they’ll say ‘You invented eclipse ball? I just thought that was something my P.E. teacher made up.’”