The ‘Lost Boys’ generation

The ‘Lost Boys’ generation

In teams of four, they don brightly colored gym shorts, sweatbands and tube socks up to their calves. Every few weeks, they meet in the Cambridge YMCA gym for a couple hours with red rubber balls and a stereo in tow.

Four square is their game of choice.

The four square grids are carefully marked with masking tape about 5 feet wide.

The sound of squeaking sneakers hitting the waxed floor echoes across the room. For all their nimble and graceful movements, there are an equal number of flubs among the players. Their skill level varies, but no one notices.

Although it is a more familiar scene on elementary school playgrounds and parks across the country, these players have not been privy to the youthful indiscretions of childhood for years.

But four square games, along with a number of other activities perceived as child-like, are increasing in popularity with the college student demographic.

In 2003, Somerville resident Sean Effel co-founded SquareFour, Boston’s first and only organized four square league, with two-time Four Square World Champion Dana Ostberg.

Effel said he has seen college students through the years who are nostalgic for their youth.

“A lot of guys played a lot when they were kids,” Effel said. “And they want to go back to relive that because of its novelty. It’s more accessible [than other recreational sports] and it doesn’t require a large background of skills. [They] just come and dive right in.”

Making Choices

On the brink of adulthood, college students are faced with the prospect of a plethora of choices – grad school, job opportunities and marriage.

As a means to adapt, students resort to a time when they felt flexible and safe, and childhood represents that, said Christopher Noxon, author of the book, “Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up.” His book takes an in-depth look into the adult psyche pining for child-like methods of thinking.

Though his book is about post-college adults, he said his theory could easily be applied to students as they prepare to leave the carefree days of adolescence behind.

“The whole notion of adulthood [for college students] is becoming such a prominent problem to solve,” Noxon said. “In your late teens and early 20s, the idea that you’re out here on your own, that’s where the prospect of adulthood becomes much more imminent and [students] resort back to things from their youth. They want to differentiate themselves from the adults they become.”

Justin Keogh, a senior electrical engineering and philosophy major at the University of Pittsburgh, started his school’s first four square league with a friend two years ago. Though they both played recreationally, after interest from their friends, they decided to approach the university to form a school-sponsored organization.

The club began with 10 members and a constitution, but Keogh said it now boasts about 600 students and is the largest non-governmental club on his campus.

Phil Thomas, the four square club’s reservations officer and a sophomore information science major, regularly sees a stress therapist to help cope with school. He said four square becomes a form of escapist fun that distracts him from his heavy workload.

“[When you come to college], you don’t have anyone that asks you if you did your homework,” Thomas said. “You don’t have parents to make sure you don’t get distracted. A lot of students don’t realize that until they’re here. Suddenly they’re like ‘oh wow, I’m out here, I’m on my own,’ and they start panicking. It’s an escape. When you’re playing four square, you’re not thinking about your classes.

Fantasy music

Paul DeGeorge, a 27-year-old Tufts University graduate, sits patiently on one of the bright, red leather sofas at the June Bug Caf

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