The Day I Talked to John “Mr. Hackysack” Stalberger on the Phone

Just in case you aren’t aware who John is… He created the sport we put so much time into. I think you owe him a thank you.

I’m sure most of you remember when John Stalberger was pushing his kickstarter for his Footbag book he wanted to publish. Unfortunately, the goal was set too high and he couldn’t get the money. But while all this was going on, he asked me if he could put my profile in the book. I was more than honored and it was basically a dream come true. He told me he wanted to talk to me on the phone sometime soon. That was also pretty gosh darn unbelievable to me. The creator of the sport, that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart, the sport that shaped my life… wanted to talk to.. me? It was surely breathtaking and then some.

But I gave him my number like “no big deal”, when in actuality, it was a big deal to me. He also gave me his and I saved it as “John “Mr. Hackysack” Stalberger”, because I’m so frickin’ nerdy like that.

I got no call that day, although I was anticipating one. Oh well. The next day I was going to the gym to try to get ripped for the ladies, of course. Beach season, brah. Gotta get my guns loaded… just kidding, it was to do some cross-training for hackysack. Such nerdy. I love it. Along with cross-training, I also used a machine that worked your shin muscles really well, that was helping me with my chronic shin splints problem I had back then. Anyway, I was parking my car and felt my phone vibrating. I pulled it out while trying to grab my gym bag and lock my car and yadda yadda all things else at the same time. Not thinking about who it could be, I brought it out and glanced at the screen. “John “Mr. Hackysack” Stalberger”. I just stared at that screen for a second or 10, trying to savor the moment. I answered.


“Hello?” (like i’m playing cool about not knowing who it is 😉 )


“Hi, Nick? It’s John Stalberger!”


*My brain silently implodes and turns into kittens and oatmeal inside my cranium…


At this point, the excitement is really really wow. John Stalberger was calling me on the phone. “MY” phone. The device I keep in my pocket… the device that lets me play Flappy Bird… John Stalberger… “The Dude”. It seemed too unreal to be true. Words can’t actually describe what I felt during those first exchanged words.


We start talking and I soon stop violently sweating. We were just talking about his book at first, but I honestly was tripping balls down memory lane. Staring at a footbag I was mushing around in my fingers, I thought back to all moments in footbag that I ever experienced… the very first hack my dad got me when I was 5, learning to kick it 3 times and going ham after doing so when I was in middle school, learning toe and inside stalls from a new friend I made in highschool, meeting Bob Reifer who taught me everything I know (Thanks Bob! See you next week!), my 1st place in Intermediates at the final Funtastiks, injuring myself earlier in the year and wanting so badly to be playing like normal again with no pain. Talking to John really triggered this crazy domino-like flashback. Almost like when you die, they say your life flashes before your eyes. Well, I think when you talk to John for the first time, your footbag life flashes before your eyes and you realize you’re actually, in a sense, talking to “God”.


After a little while of talking to him and thanking him profusely for what he’s done for footbag, it turned into a pretty normal phone call and I almost forgot who I was talking to. We got on the topic of injuries somehow, I think because I told him about my shin splints. He started telling me how he used to play a lot of baseball before he got into footbag. I don’t really like baseball much, but I was still interested in hearing about John’s life. He said he loved baseball more than anything, and he was good at it. “Then one day”, he told me,  “I took a spill on the field and really hurt his knee and it was so bad it needed surgery.” I replied something like, “Oh man, that’s a total bummer.” Then he replied, “Heh, well sort of… that injury was a blessing in disguise.. because it was that injury made me invent the very first footbag to help my knee recover.”


It took a second to register to my brain, but then it hit me like Hanna Montanna’s wrecking ball… This dude is talking about how he invented what is sitting in the palm of my hand right now… without this guy, I wouldn’t be holding this thing at this moment in time, and I wouldn’t be who I am today. That was a pretty big epiphany I had that day. Chills ran from the tips of my hair follicles to the end of my toe nails. After I overcame that intense feeling, I explained to him what just happened to me with that epiphany. I could tell he was smiling. I can’t remember much else from the remainder of that conversation, but I remember I ended it with something jokey, like:


“Well, John, I’m really sorry you had to go through that injury, but I’m really thankful that you got injured back then, because without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”


He chuckled… I chuckled… We chuckled…


By: Nick Polini

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