Around 1900, a group called the Playground Association organized sports for boys in some of the city playgrounds. It was going well until the city took over the playgrounds, and ended the supervised games. The city figured that “play was just play, and if the spaces were there the boys would go, whether an instructor presided or not.” But they didn’t. It turned out that streets were just as fun to play in, and had more shade to cool down in.
The article describes a movement under the new Park Commissioner to bring back directed sports in 1910. I especially like the dialogue here between a boy and a sports director:
The other day, when an instructor walked into a park to establish a new centre for games, the first thing every boy did was to take to his heels as hard as he could. The instructor was accompanied by the park guard, who was to show him the plot, and the boys knew him for a natural enemy. Only one boy stood, like Horatio, to keep the bridge — or maybe he was too lazy to run. The instructor beckoned to him, and the boy came, keeping a way eye out for an avenue of escape, but determined not to be bullied by any number of park guards.
“Look here, Johnny,” said the instructor easily, “we’re going to open a playground here, and we’re going to play baseball. Tell the rest of the boys to come back.”
“Huh?” said the boy.
The instructor repeated.
“They don’t let you play no baseball in the parks,” returned the boy scornfully, when the second explanation was finished.
“Yes, they’re going to let us. I’ve got a permit from the Park Department.”
“Park Department?” said the boy.
“Yes. Go call the boys.”
“Call ’em back?”
“Yes. Run along.”
The boy eyed the young man dubiously. The child of the streets is slow to believe, and this particular specimen stood on one foot, rubbing the other against his leg, for fully half a minute while he decided whether this was a fair offer or a trap.
“All right. Gee!” he said, and he was off like a shot.
Some of the directed activities included baseball, basket weaving, and gymnastics. No word on tag.
PERSONALLY DIRECTED SPORTS ARE POPULAR WITH CHILDREN: Park Commissioner Stover Finds that This Plan Makes Play More Attractive to the Youngsters of the Streets (PDF)
From July 24, 1910