The sport was without a name until New York Times Magazine reporter William Atherton DuPuy christened the game "Hoover-ball" for his 1931 article "At the White House at 7 a.m."
Hoover-ball was played by teams of 2-4 players with a six-pound medicine ball over a net eight feet high on a court similar to one used for tennis. The game was scored exactly like tennis, and played in similar fashion. The server throws the ball. The opponent must catch it on the fly and immediately return it, attempting to put it where it cannot be reached and returned. The side that misses the ball or throws it out of bounds loses the point.
"Stopping a six-pound ball with steam back of it, returning it with similar steam, is not pink-tea stuff," DuPuy wrote. "Dr. Boone estimates that as much beneficial exercise is obtained from half an hour of it (Hoover-ball) as from three times as much tennis or six times as much golf."
The sport originated in 1928, when shortly after his election Hoover took a goodwill trip to South America. While aboard the battleship Utah on his return, he watched a game of "bull-in-the-ring", a medicine-ball game that was popular on naval ships. A soft nine-pound medicine ball was thrown from one to another of the players standing in a circle as the "bull" in the center tried to intercept it. During the trip, the president-elect played and enjoyed the game, which was the inspiration for Hoover-ball.
"Getting daily exercise to keep physically fit is always a problem for Presidents," Hoover wrote. "Once the day's work starts there is little chance to walk, to ride or to take part in a game. Taking walks or rides early in the morning is a lonesome business, and the inevitable secret service guard when the President leaves the White House grounds is not enlivening company."
Hoover and Dr. Boone then hit upon the idea of morning medicine-ball workouts. Dr. Boone adapted "bull-in-the-ring" to Hoover-ball to help the president slim down. Four days after Hoover's inauguration the games began. The players experimented with medicine balls of different weights--the nine-pound ball used for "bull-in-the-ring" was too heavy--and with the net at different heights before finalizing the Hoover-ball rules.
Early each morning, from four to 18 VIPs would show up for the games on the south lawn of the White House. The participants soon became known as the "Medicine Ball Cabinet," although not all were official Cabinet members.
"At seven o'clock sharp they choose partners and begin," Irwin wrote. "A factory down by the Potomac blows a loud whistle at seven-thirty. This is the signal to quit, no matter how close the score; for the business of governing must go on."
Only once did Hoover cancel a game--that was when he arose early to write a message to deliver to the Senate that day.
"Except for Sundays, we played medicine ball every morning of the week, including official holidays," Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur wrote in his Memoirs. "Only absence from Washington kept us away."
"We paid no attention to the weather except for a very heavy rain. We played in cold and wind, snow and rain, and in the four years we were driven indoors only two or three times, because of an unusually drenching downpour."
On those rare occasions when they were forced inside, the "Medicine Ball Cabinet" retreated to the White House basement to play their games.
The average age of the participants was 53. Players would dress in flannel shirts, old trousers, sweaters or leather jackets, rubber-soled shoes, and often, hats.
Hoover is more widely regarded for his achievements as a mining engineer, humanitarian and statesman than as a sports pioneer. However, he was a fan of both football and baseball, and enjoyed fishing and hiking. "His idea of a happy Saturday afternoon is--when he can--to watch a baseball game or to wade hip-deep in the tangled seclusion of a trout stream," Edward G. Lowry wrote for The Saturday Evening Post.