I was a street gang member during my early youth.  We called ourselves the 9th Street Musketeers and we clashed regularly with the 7th Street Robin Hood gang doing battle in the middle ground of the 8th  Street woods.

Our weapons included homemade bows strung with butcher twine, and stick arrows, swords and lances whittled from skinny branches.  Our shields were trash can lids that we had to get back in place before our parents and the neighborhood cats and dogs got wind of the exposed garbage.

According to our unwritten rules of engagement even the slightest touch with the point of an enemy weapon would render a warrior “dead” and committed to the sidelines. There were no referees so “fatal wounds” were often contested, but we managed to settle these arguments peaceably without fisticuffs.  Actual injuries were rare, a scratch here and there and maybe a nosebleed if a distracted charging swordsman ran into a tree.

Once during the heat of battle a Musketeer shouted,  “Hey you guys, blackberries!” and an immediate truce was called as all combatants gathered around the new-found blackberry bush and gorged. When hostilities resumed we were all dripping with berry juice, looking like walking wounded.

Usually after a battle, the winners and losers, the quick and the “dead”, traded comic books and searched the woods for deposit bottles and debris that the local junkman might consider salvage.  Later we’d spend the profits on a two-gang picnic.

That was almost 80  years ago.   If there were combat contests like that for kids today there would be compulsory helmets, face guards, chest protectors and expensive plastic weapons. Smelly trash can lids would be completely out of the question.  There would be an official rules book, adult coaches and  field judges,  waivers of injury claims forms and post-battle counseling for the losers.  The 8th Street woods has since been replaced by a parking lot so the contest would take place on an Astroturf field with grandstands, cheerleaders and a first aid squad.

There would be no searches for blackberry bushes, deposit bottles or saleable junk, but every team member, winners and losers, would receive a trophy.


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