On Sunday afternoons at Lexington's Woodland Park, you can see people pull off some fierce tricks, make amazing shots, and go back and forth in some serious volleys.
But here's the thing. The fierce tricks aren't being performed at the skate park. The amazing shots aren't being made in a basketball game. The serious volleys might involve a tennis ball, but it's not happening on any tennis court.
It's happening in Hantis, a hybrid game/sport born and developed in Kentucky. And its creators have a plan — make this accessible game a widespread sporting phenomenon.
The game got its start in 2005 at Scott County High School in Georgetown. Co-creators Thaxton Marshall, Ben Fatheree and Jason Johns were practically inseparable best friends who were taking a media class together. It was the last period of the day, and as is the case with many high schoolers, boredom begets mischief.
It took the form of Internet gaming, Texas hold 'em and even a "Steve-O 500," the title of a speedy footrace around the teacher's desk.
"I guess you could say we were bad kids, but we had good hearts," Fatheree said.
When those activities got outlawed, the boys needed something else to pass the time — and when a fellow classmate pulled out a tennis ball, they found it.
First, they made a makeshift table tennis table, using two tables, wedged notebook binders as a net and their hands as paddles. The one-on-one match soon became a doubles match, resulting in the eventual addition of extra tables that were later spread apart, losing the impromptu notebook net and taking on the appearance of four square. From here, the first version of Hantis was born.
It didn't take long for the game to catch on amongst fellow classmates. Kids would get bathroom passes to stop by for a quick Hantis session, and students began organizing Hantis games in other classrooms.
"It was almost like we created a mini- revolution in the school by creating this havoc in one classroom," Fatheree said.
So, what exactly is Hantis? Basically, while the game's name is a mash-up of the words "hand" and "tennis," it combines elements of table tennis and four square with similar rules. With one ball and four tables, teams of two try to get an opposing player out by bouncing the ball off a table and either causing it to hit the table twice or bounce once and hit the ground. But unlike table tennis, a player may hit the ball twice during a possession before hitting it toward the opposing team.
There are plenty of additional elements to Hantis that give the game its distinct identity, whether it's the ability to roam freely from table to table, being able to bounce the ball off surrounding objects and trick shots. Plus, players may choose to play for points or rotate like four square to get larger groups involved. For Johns, Hantis is something special in the realm of games and sports.
"Honestly, it's my favorite aspect of every sport all rolled up into one," he said. "We've put a new spin on it and made it less point-oriented. Pressure's totally off. Everybody's there to have a good time."
Despite Fatheree, Marshall and Johns parting ways to go to different colleges and live in different states, they were certain Hantis wasn't going to become just a fun high school memory. This was especially the case for Fatheree, who, according to Johns and Marshall, had the vision and determination to bring Hantis to its full potential.
"Ben stuck with it and knew it was going to be huge," Marshall said. "It's what kept us together. It's really kind of crazy that this game that we made has kept us together."
While Hantis certainly isn't huge yet, its co-creators have taken every step to make sure it gets there. The game has a rule book, patent, Web site (Hantis.net), logo, and multiple instructional and demo videos they've posted to YouTube. Fatheree is in the process of moving to Texas, where he will seek full-time employment while helping to set up Hantis' headquarters and organize events in the Southwest.
As for Marshall, who lives in Lexington, and Johns, now living in Mason, Ohio, they work multiple odd jobs and use their money to build Hantis tables and travel around Kentucky and elsewhere promoting the game. They're the face of Hantis, doing demos for schools, gaming events and physical education conferences. They even took a trip to Los Angeles to play Hantis in front of the elaborate setting for the MTV reality show Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory in the hopes of getting it some air time.
While they didn't make it on TV, they did receive other accolades. The game has won a few awards, including the 2011 Playworks Best New Game Contest, the "Most Elegant" award at the Steel City Games Fest in Pittsburgh, and the 2011 Healthy Schools Campaign's Ideas for Health & Wellness Contest.
The people behind Hantis said that while the main priority has been to get the word out, they've also taken on a secondary mission to use Hantis as a way to get people more active.
"The people that are more sedentary and don't exercise enough, they don't have something that excites them," Fatheree said. "We thought, what better sport than Hantis to introduce people to physical activity.
"It's a sport for people who don't like regular sports and for people who do like regular sports."
Marshall said he's doing his best to spark interest in the sport in Kentucky. He makes sure to gather a group of friends and family members to play Hantis near the tennis courts at Woodland Park every Sunday. He said they'll get curious on-lookers who occasionally ask about the game, but rarely do they become players. While this might seem like a reason to be discouraged, he is encouraged that there is a Hantis club at his old high school, with more popping up in elsewhere in Kentucky and beyond.
Fatheree, Marshall and Johns think there are bigger things ahead for Hantis. And if for some reason they're wrong, there's still pride and enthusiasm for the game they create .
"The amount of fun you have with the game you can't quantify," Marshall said. "You just have to jump in and experience it."