- by Tom Eastman
1981 World Mud Bowl
Hey! Mud Bowl! After months of planning and back-breaking labor, the kickoff for the 1981 World Mud Bowl football championships has arrived. Played for the benefit of the North Conway Community Center, the charitable touch football extravaganza gets underway in the deep mud of the newly constructed Hog Coliseum in Mt. Washington Valley this weekend, September 12-13th. From all indications, this year's crazy event promises to be the biggest and most colorful World Mud Bowl ever.
Teams competing in the world championship of muck and grime this year other than the defending 1980 World Champion Mt. Washington Valley Hogs include their long-time arch rivals, The Carrabassett Valley Rats of Sugarloaf, Maine, the Free Street Pubbers of Portland, Maine, and the team that put an end to the Hogs' four-year dynasty in the World Mud Bowl two years ago, the 1979 world champion New York State Hamslammers of Holland-Patent, New York.
The focus of Mud Bowl has always been having a good time while raising money for a worthwhile charity, and good rivalries have developed between the teams over the past few years - the hallmarks of any good sporting event. Consequently, each of the teams has been taking such drastic measure as actually holding practices heading into the Mud Bowl, an unheard of occurrence until recently. Without question, the competitive juices are flowing.
One rumor sloshing through the goop-vine has it that the Free Street Pubbers have gone so far to enlist the help of New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan for their practice game planning sessions. The Carrabassett Valley Rats can be counted on to give their usual hard-hitting Paul Bunyan-esque best as well, as they are said to be intent on returning the Mud Cup back to where the first World Mud Bowl was hosted in Sugarloaf in 1975. As for New York, some insiders report that they've gotten themselves revved up for the games by holding a charitable mud football event of their own in the farming community of Holland-Patent in the past few weeks.
The World Champion Mt. Washington Valley Hogs are just as committed to retaining their title this year as they were in retrieving it from the Hamslammers in last year's championship played in New York.. Quarterbacks Jim Donnatelli and Charlie Gardner will lead a strong team of veterans onto the freshly tilled mulch of the new Hog Coliseum, and in the crazy sport of mud football, experience counts the most. The Hogs are proud of their new playing facility, said to be the world's largest mud football stadium, and have every intention of hosting the 1982 Mud Bowl there as champions next year.
Kicking off the weekend of festivities will be a Pep Rally at Hog Coliseum Friday night at 8 p.m. The agenda calls for a cheering session around the bonfire led by the Hogs' lovely cheerleaders, the Hogettes, team introductions, and the dedication of Hog Coliseum's North Conway Community Field. The name is an appropriate one, since it underlines the community spirit that was behind the construction of the impressive new mud football facility.
The preliminaries continue on Saturday morning with the start of the World Mud Bowl Parade down Main Street in North Conway. The colorful procession is a new addition to the gala mud football weekend, and will feature floats and units sponsored by Mt. Washington Valley businesses, groups, and organizations. Leading the parade will be Miss World Mud Bowl 1981, Brenda Keir, followed by the lovely Hogettes riding on a wagon driven by Steve Hussey of the Eastern Slope Farm, and pulled by a team of Percheron draft horses. Third position in the moving madness of mud mania will belong to the Mt. Washington Valley Band, followed by the players, at least 15 floats, local fire department trucks, and the North Conway Little League. Starting time for the parade is at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Post 95 parking lot, with the procession expected to fully arrive at Hog Coliseum in back of the North Conway Community Center by 11:45. A reviewing stand will be situated in Schouler Park, with Conway selectmen Bill Hounsell, Priscilla Barringer, and Bob Bumstead serving as judges.
The schedule calls for the opening welcome to be given at 12 noon, followed by player introductions, the playing of the National Anthem, and Game 1's kick-off at 12:20. The first game should be a tough one, as Sugarloaf's Carrabassett Valley Rats take to the field to do battle with the New York State Hamslammers. Providing the play-by-play announcements over the PA system will be local personalities, Peter "Piggy" Case and WMWV-FM disc jockey Danny Del Rossi. Official programs will be sold by the Mt. Washington Valley Arts Association, while refreshments will be available through the North Conway Community Center. Members of the North Conway Little League will handle parking duties in the Village Parking Lot, while senior citizens from the Gibson Center's RSVP program will man the ticket areas. Admission to the games is $2.50 for adults and $1.50 for children, with all proceeds benefiting the North Conway Community Center.
Following a tug-of-war competition, the second game will get underway at approximately 3 p.m. between the defending world champion Mt Washington Valley Hogs and the Free Street Pubbers of Portland, a team which has encountered difficulties in previous Mud Bowls but which has been accurately billing itself lately as the world's fourth best mud football team. The second game is expected to be completed by 5 p.m., followed by the Mud Bowl Ball and Banquet at Barnaby's Saturday night.
Sunday's schedule is basically the same, with the consolation game between Saturday's losers set for 12 noon. Along with various raffle prizes, which will be available on both Saturday and Sunday, entertainment on Sunday will include a watermelon eating contest, and an awards ceremony following the end of play late Sunday afternoon. The actual Mud Bowl championship is slated to begin at 3 p.m. with the competitiveness of all the teams playing this year - all of whom are experienced Mud Bowlers - it's anyone's guess just which two teams will be battling each other in the finals. Two things are for certain, however: there is bound to be a sizable crowd of spectators and media watching the event, and the mud will be deep and thick, the texture most desired by connoisseurs of the sport.
The Building of the World Mud Bowl Stadium The need for ample mud was the prime motivation factor behind the decision to move the Mud Bowl location behind the North Conway Community Center. In the past five years that mud football has been played in Mt. Washington Valley, organizers of the event were in constant search of a permanent facility in which to host the fun-filled and increasingly popular event. Games for the first three years were held either in a corn-potato field off the West Side Road or in Conway on Route 113. They were then moved to Hog Stadium at the base of Mt Cranmore in North Conway for the 1979 World Mud Bowl and the 1980 Olympic Mud Football Games.
The Mt Cranmore site was ideally located, being in close proximity to North Conway Village, but the quality of its clay-based mud fell short of the oozing thickness and moisture that the unusual game requires. Furthermore, it lacked adequate viewing space for the 2,500 fans who have attended each event in recent years. Television coverage by NBC-TV's Real People and WBZTV's Evening Magazine of the Olympic Mud Football Games in 1980 led many to speculate that mud football had outgrown the Mt. Cranmore location. The sport's popularity seemed to be on the rise, and a new facility was deemed necessary.
One individual who felt that he might have a solution to the problem was Gary "Hog of Steel" Sheldon, star wide receiver for the Hogs and a member of World Mud Bowl, Inc., the organization that runs the World Mud Bowl locally in Mt. Washington Valley. It came to Sheldon's attention that the North Conway Community Center - the official beneficiary of all Mt Washington Valley played mud football games - owned a swampy yet potentially suitable site for an ideal stadium. Located adjacent to the Center over the brink of a sharp hill, the natural, yet crude amphitheater could - with a lot of work - really be turned into something, Sheldon proposed.
"Gary came to me about using the land, and I agreed to discuss his proposal with Community Center board members," Center director Kim Perkins recalls. On May 18th, backers of the World Mud Bowl, Inc. met with Center personnel and Selectman William Hounsell and Police chief Don Lance about the suggested move from Mt. Cranmore to the Community Center. Although organizer Richie Moulton cited the advantages in the change - better spectator seating on the steep hillside, a safer playing terrain in the thicker natural mud indigenous to the site, and isolation from passing traffic - Chief Lance expressed doubts about the idea. among other things, he noted that the event might produce traffic tie-ups in the Village, possible more pedestrian safety hazards, and increased downtown congestion.
Three weeks later, Moulton and Steve Eastman - one of the founders of World Mud Bowl - met with Town selectmen to discuss plans for the autumn event. After learning that the granting of a permit required proof of adequate insurance and various other measures, the organizers left the meeting believing that the move to the new facility was assured if the regulations were complied with. With these goals in mind, construction on the new Stadium began, and a promotional campaign financed by Miller Lite Beer and Silver Bros. of New Hampshire undertaken.
While work went ahead on plans for the 1981 World Mud Bowl, serious questions about the event arose that came to a head at the combined meeting of the Selectmen and the Police Commissioners in July. Then, acting on counsel from the Police Commissioners, the selectmen voted to deny a permit to World Mud Bowl, Inc. at its new location. That denial stemmed from concerns over parking facilities, traffic congestion, and pubic safety.
A week later on July 22nd, the Hogs and various members of the business community and Community Center met with the Selectmen and Police Commissioners for two-and-a-half hours to discuss the denial and counter the objections raised the week before. Organizers argued that strong safety measures could - and would - be provided at the event, adding that there hadn't been an injury to a player or spectator in the five years that the games had been played in Mt Washington Valley. Others noted that the new facility offered adequate space, was far enough below the road to be out of sight from passing motorists, and offered more seating to accommodate the crowds, thus reducing any possible friction among fans, an occurrence that had never been evident at any previous mud football events. Finally, after commenting that the site could be used for future Community Center programs and town events, Center Director Kim Perkins argued that the World Mud Bowl was no different than the dozen or more events which are held each year in the center of town. Consequently, he stated, "If the Mud Bowl is denied a permit on the grounds that we've talked about, I don't see how other events can also be given permits."
As the discussion progressed, it became apparent that there had been a problem of communication between all the parties concerned. Selectman Priscilla Barringer noted that specific plans - ranging from crowd control measure to the fulfillment of insurance requirements - hadn't been brought to the attention of Selectmen and the Police Commissioner prior to the start of the meeting, resulting in incomplete information upon which to base their earlier decision to deny the permit. Others agreed that the lack of communication had complicated matters.
The outcome of the meeting was that, by virtue of a 5-1 vote, World Mud Bowl Inc. won conditional approval for the event, providing that insurance, safety and other reasonable requirements set down by the Selectmen were met. The vote - as was made clear - in no way gave World Mud Bowl Inc. the insured right to conduct the event in future years, however. As the Selectmen noted, the question of North Conway Village's Main Street - as well as the future of all in-town events - would be the subject of further study in the fall.
As far as the Hogs were concerned, the vote was something to cheer about. Work commenced on the Coliseum after the week-long delay with fervent energy, picking up where previous Hog work-weekends had left off. A skidder had already cleared most of the logs which had been cut by Hog team members in June, but major grading work and landscaping touches were still required. A particularly urgent need was rich topsoil fill, vital to the fine art of making mud for the Coliseum.
In typical Valley spirit, Richie Moulton's calls to local contractors for help met with success. Jerry Foster Corporation provided a bulldozer that peeled up an old cement barn foundation from the Coliseum's playing field and then reshaped and terraced the natural amphitheater's banks into more pleasant viewing areas for spectators. The problem of finding fill was resolved with just a month to go before the World Mud Bowl, as Alpine Aggregates agreed to sell the required amounts at reduced rates. As for getting it to the site, Richie Moulton put his resourceful talents to work by calling every dump truck driver he knew for help.
"If you're looking for Mud Bowl heroes, the guys driving these dump trucks here to the Stadium in their off-duty time are who you should talk to," Moulton said. Before him, three trucks churned through the natural muck of the transformed and truly impressive Coliseum, depositing their cargo of dirt into the late hours of the night as they would continue to do for a week. Later in the week, members of the Hogs enhanced the facility by installing telephone poles for landscaping that had been donated by New England Telephone and delivered for free by Garland Lumber.
As Community Center Director Kim Perkins commented while surveying the scene, "Ya know what the most impressive thing about the World Mud Bowl and the New Coliseum is? It's all been accomplished through the work of the volunteers, people helping each other out. It's been a total community effort, and to me, that means more than even the $5,000 that the event raises for the Center's programs." Added Richie Moulton, "This has required a lot of work from a lot of people, more than most realize. I'll just be happy to see this one pulled off as planned." And then as the sun set behind the Moat Mountains, Moulton made what could be the classic understatement of the year, commenting, "With a little more time and work, there's no telling just what this Hog Coliseum might look like in the future, eh? Who knows - we just might really have something special here after all."
Considering the fun nature of the sport and the charitable cause it's held for, one would have to agree. Gentlemen, let the games begin.