Back in the day, which would be BP, (Before Pong - the first video game) kids actually had to go outside in the fresh air, and play games that emanated from the 3 lb. hard drive called their brain. Growing up in NYC, there were a variety of street games to choose from: Johnny on the Pony, freeze tag, stickball, paddleball, and a whole host of others. Some of these games were entirely unique to NYC. You wouldn't find them outside of the confines of the 5 boroughs, and even then, not necessarily in all quarters of the city.
Skelly, (or skully, depending on what neighborhood you grew up in) was one such game. It required equal parts skill, luck, and just a modicum of ruthlessness. It also required a bit of skulduggery. The basic game was usually drawn on the sidewalk, or in the street in chalk as follows:
(There is usually a border drawn around the edges as well. Also, on some boards, the "2, 4, 6,8" around the "13" in the middle is not there, but the boxes surrounding it are, just not numbered.)
To learn how to play the game would take a bit of explaining. Fortunately, the web has provided a valuable resource, Streetplay.com that will tell you all you need to know about the game but were afraid to ask.
However, there was one aspect of the game that made for fierce competition amongst the kids on the block. Skelly caps were bottle caps, the kind you got from Coke (the metal ones, as the plastic ones did not yet exist.) or beer bottles, and you melted crayons into them. This not only was a source of pride with regards to what your skelly cap collection looked like, but it also served a practical purpose. The melted crayon weighted down the cap, causing it to move more smoothly across the pavement.
For true skelly afficianados, the best skelly cap was the bottom of your school chair. It was a heavier metal than the bottle cap, and its naturally polished surface made it glide nicely. It also made for some killer moves, as its weight could blow other players right off the board. The skulduggery part came in when trying to pry the bottom off the chair; teachers normally took an ill view of such things. Destruction of school property aside, it left a lot of chairs with a discernible list to either the right or left. One chair was one thing; a whole classroom full of them was quite another.
I first learned to play the game while living in Rockaway, Queens, prior to moving to the Bronx. In the projects where I lived, management was kind enough to actually paint a skelly board on the floor of the small park behind my building. My fondest memories were hordes of kids lined up to play, either against one another or in teams. Over the course of an entire day, you would hear shouts of "whoa," and "yeah, yeah." There was, however, one shout that everyone hoped to be able to do: "I am a killer diller!" The response from the rest of players was, in unison, "Yes you are!"
Kids up here in Rochester have no conception of this game. This year however, I am going to draw out a skelly board on my driveway, and get some skelly caps, and teach my neighbors what real fun is..........
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