Is “Ships Across the Ocean” a Uniquely Minnesotan Childhood Game?
When I was in elementary school, my friends and I made up our own schoolyard game. Swing Soccer Kickball, we called it.
The game was exactly what it sounded like -- a combination of soccer and kickball played on the swingset. Like in kickball, players were divided into two teams. One team would start at the swings, where they would try to kick a soccer ball that was pitched (or rolled) to them from a pitcher's mound. If they missed the ball as it rolled underneath them, that was considered a strike; three strikes and they were out. If the kicker successfully kicked the ball then they had to jump off the swing and run to first base and round all the bases if they could. The next kicker would take a turn until the pitcher had struck out three kickers. Team would then swap infield and outfield. Considering we were only in third or fourth grade, I still think the idea was pretty ingenious of us, and even all these years later I'm surprised it hasn't become an officially-recognized sport yet.
I came across a post recently on the Minnesota thread of Reddit about another childhood game -- Ships Across the Ocean. I hadn't heard of Ships Across the Ocean before, leading me to wonder if this was another game perhaps unique specifically to Minnesota. The author of the Reddit post wondered the same thing.
"One of my favorite field games as a kid was ships across the ocean," says Reddit user u/onlysubbedhere. "I looked it up, and all the sources seem to be from Minnesota. It made me wonder, do other states play this game under a different name? Is this game known widely among other Minnesotans, or relatively unknown apart from some small groups?"
Clicking on the link included in the post, I learned that Ships Across the Ocean is essentially a form of tag with a fun sing-song chant. Players are chosen to be "captains" who stand in the middle of the gym or field, considered the "sea." The remaining players -- named "ships" -- all line up at one side of the gym or field and sing "Ships across the ocean / Ships across the sea /Captain, Captain / You can't catch me!” As the chant ends, the ships run across sea, trying to pass the captains without being tagged. Tagged players become "seaweed," have to remain in place, and join captains in trying to tag remaining ships. The last ship standing is considered the winner.
Several people in the Reddit thread said they'd never heard of Ships Across the Ocean before. A couple others, however, thought it sounded like a game they recognized as Sharks and Minnows.
"In Michigan we played the same game," shared one. "We called it something different which I can't recall though maybe just 'Sharks.' You were either a shark or a fish, if you got tagged you were a sea anemone. Same rules just different names."
"Judging by the other comments, we played this game in elementary school (in Minnesota)," chimed in another. "Though we called it Sharks vs Minnows."
"Never heard of it growing up in southern Minnesota, but once I started coaching as an adult in St. Paul I found it was almost the only game kids wanted to play to warm up," shared a third.