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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016 12:18 am

Bouncing back

A dumb old fad gets – a little – smarter

Today’s trampoline parks are safer than those of yesteryear.


The wonderful thing about getting older is watching people falling for the same cons their grandparents did. The Philippines invasion became Vietnam became Iraq. Trump is Buchanan again, who was Perot again, who was Wallace, and so it goes, all the way back to the 1858 version of Stephen A. Douglas. Even pet rocks are back – just read the GOP platform.

And trampoline parks are back. In the early 1960s trampolining was all the rage in Springfield, my hometown. The YWCA offered classes. The Springfield Trampolets competed against other such clubs in distant towns. Trampoline shows were staged at trade shows. (This is the sort of things convention cities used to have to do before they got a Hooters.) The Clear Lake Super-Way gave away free trampoline lessons with the purchase of any product made by Pegwill, a local meatpacker, although I can tell you from experience you don’t want to start jumping up and down with a half-digested Pegwill weiner in your stomach.

When the Couples Club of First Pres held their Christmas party they set up a trampoline. The Journal’s photographer caught Mr. and Mrs. Frank Mercado looking ecstatic in mid-jump, but anyone who’s done it knows that two people on one trampoline must jump perfectly in sync or one of them is likely to be thrown aside. It was a wiser Mr. and Mrs. Frank Mercado who climbed down from that trampoline, I’m sure.  

The U.S. was divided then, as it is today, into those who jump and those who watch. I am proud to say that I was among those who jumped. At Washington Junior High, as it then was called, I was selected to be one of the boys to put on a trampolining exhibition for parents at an upcoming PTA meeting. In sessions in the gym after hours we mastered the basic moves – tuck jump, straddle jump, pike jump, seat drop, knee drop, doggy drop, front and back drop , which we did in combination with twists and somersaults. None was as hard to learn as slow dancing, or as rewarding, but the taxpayers that night seemed to be impressed. Lucky for us they’d probably never seen the real thing. There were genuinely skilled trampoliners in Springfield in those days; Vicki Bolinger for a time in the 1960s was the second-ranked female trampolinist in the world.

Not everyone had access to real gymnastics equipment. The genius of American free enterprise is to fulfill every desire people don’t know they have, and this one was fulfilled by the commercial trampoline park. These experiments in play for profit began in 1959 in California, which was then living one of the more frivolous moments in its history. (The state was then only seven years away from electing Ronald Reagan governor.) It took until the spring of 1961 for a trampoline park to really put the spring into Springfield when Bounceville USA opened in my own neighborhood, a block from Washington at 2630 E. Cook.

I can only laugh when I read people who damn today’s trampoline parks as dangerous. The better ones are indoors. You can’t fall off because trampolines are arrayed wall to wall, with thick padding atop the springs and frames. The contrast with 1961’s Bounceville could not be more marked. The tiny trampolines were mounted over  concrete pits surrounded by gravel, and there was no padding on anything. The mere sight of Bounceville USA must have sent an orgasmic shiver through every personal injury lawyer who drove by.

No sober grownup would have gone near one of these parks, but then grownups are not always sober. Alert legislator Ed Schaefer of Nokomis introduced a bill that would have banned drunken persons from trampoline parks. That might have spelled commercial doom for the trampoline park. The sensible person does not enjoy breaking a leg on a trampoline but he relishes watching other people break their legs on trampolines, and every 11-year-old boy in my neighborhood would have happily spent all their paper route money at Bounceville for the chance to see the spectacle of drunks bouncing themselves off the premises.

Jumping for joy declined in popularity as injury rates rose, kinda like what’s happening to the Rauner administration’s poll ratings. Springfield’s Bounceville, USA, opened on April 2. On Aug. 23, a newspaper ad announced that the proprietor was selling the whole lot for cash. (“Due to other interests,” it said – like paying the rent, probably.) Among the equipment were 12 trampolines, “all in excellent condition.”

Well, of course they were. If only the same could have been said about the customers.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at


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