• by Tom Eastman

A Decade of Mud Madness

And so the moment Mt. Washington Valley has waited for has arrived. The field has been tilled, the parade route finalized, and the eyes of the world are riveted to Hog Coliseum, site of the 1984 World Mud Bowl.

Sponsored by Lite Beer from Miller, distributed by Silver Brothers of Gorham and Londonderry, the purpose of the World Mud Bowl since its inception has been to raise funds for local charitable organizations, while presenting an event that's enjoyable for the entire community. Last year's games neeted $20,675, an impressive amount that World Mud Bowl organizers hope to surpass this weekend.

"We attracted approximately 10,000 people last year over the three-day period. I'd like to see us reach 15,000 this year. If the weather cooperates, I think it's a realistic target," commented World Mud Bowl executive committee member David Cianciolo of the seven-time champion Mt. Washington Valley Hogs.

In past years, much of the proceeds generated by the games have had to be diverted to pay for extensive field improvements made at Hog Coliseum, but Cianciolo noted little field work was required this year. He expects the games will be able to donate more revenue for the benefit of local charities as a result.

Donations of $20,000 and above are big drops in any puddle, and a long splash away from the amount raised by the World Mud Bowl in its early days at Sugarloaf, Maine, and later in Mt. Washington Valley. Less organized and more localized in those years, the World Mud Bowl then raised $200 to $300 through the time-honored custom of passing a hat. "We'd go around the sidelines, asking the spectators and players to kick in a few dollars, plus we'd all sell food," recalls Mt. Washington Valley Hog team captain and defensive specialist Richard DeAngelis. "I remember selling two hot dogs one year."

According to long-time pundits of the sport, mud football was conceived in a mudfield located behind a fraternity at the University of Maine at Orono. The fraternity discovered mud's real worth when one one particular Homecoming Weekend, the brothers encouraged their pledge class to challenge a rival fraternity's pledges in a game of touch football. After an afternoon of eating the mud, all agreed that the sport was fun. Alas, an annual tradition was born.

As the story goes, some UMO graduates and dropouts found their way to the state's mountains and settled at the last outpost of civilization in the Pine Tree State -- Sugarloaf. As part of the Skiers' Homecoming Festivities, an annual tradition held as a way to while away the days of autumn as they awaited the arrival of ski season, the transplanted UMO grads proposed that a locals vs. second homeowners mud football match be played.

The year was 1972, and two teams took to the mud. The Season Pass Holders from Portland, Maine, were led by Thurlow Cooper, an ex-professional NFL players, while the locals and UMP grads came to be known as the Carrabassett Valley Rats. The event raised funds for the Pine Tree Crippled Children's Fund, establishing a tradition of helping out charities.

Although the games attracted television coverage in its second year, and cheerleaders became part of the colorful sport, interest in the games waned over the years among locals. It was up to newspaper publisher Dale Rolfe of Sugarloaf to resurrect the games from oblivion.

Through Rolfe's concern, the World Mud Football League was founded in 1975 to continue and oversee development of the sport. The first expansion teams invited to join the fledgling league were Montgomery Center Muddahs of Jay Peak, Vt., and teams from Portland, Maine, and Mt. Washington Valley, N.H. The season in those days was stretched out over two weekends, with 1975's getting under way at Jay Peak and concluding the following weekend at Sugarloaf.

Meeting in the finals of that historic World Mud Bowl Championship were the hosts, the Carrabassett Valley Rats and the rookie upstarts, the Mt. Washington Valley Hogs. In a trend-setting fashion, the Hogs trounced the Rats 6-0, and also won the right to host the 1976 World Mud Bowl Championships in Mt. Washington Valley.

Thus, the Hogs introduced the sport to the Valley in 1976 by holding the Mud Bowl in a field at Katie Aguere's farm on West Side Road in North Conway. Billed at the time as the world's largest and most scenic mud stadium, the converted corn-potato patch had a certain charm, according to Hog veterans such as Steve Eastman.

"All through the game," said the World Mud Bowl public relations specialist, "you'd keep stepping on something in the mud, and upon reaching down to see what it was, you'd find a potato in the muck. We spent a lot of time throughout the games just chucking 'taters."

The Hogs successfully defended their title against the Rats in the finals, 8-6, while raising $400 for the North Conway Community Center. The Hogs and Rats faced one another a year later in the 1977 World Mud Bowl, held once again at Katie Aguere's. For the first time, the season was limited to just two days of play, as the Vermont teams, which previously had hosted the opening rounds of action chose not to compete that year.

The Rats and the Hogs went at it as only longtime arch-rivals know how, with the Hogs pulling out ot what appeared to be an insurmountable 22-0 lead. The Rats stormed back to 22-20 in the closing seconds of the game, but the clock ran out and the grateful Hogs were world champions for the third consecutive year. As talk of a dynasty in the making was voiced in the Valley, the Hogs donated $407 to the North Conway Community Center, and looked forward to defending their title when the games returned to the Valley in 1978.

That year, the Hogs and the Rats found not only some new opponents in Portland's Free Street Pub and in the Holland Patent, N.Y. Hamslammers, but also a new home in the Valley for the games. The event was moved to Dr. Eugene Hussey's cornfield off Route 113 between Center Conway and Conway, where the mud was richly fertilized and thick. Attendance was on the upswing as 4700 was raised by the traditional passing of the hat.

The pressure on the Hogs to repeat their winning ways was also greater, and they met the challenge by tapping, lateralling, and outsplashing their opponents in every conceivable manner, defeating the Portland team 54-6 in the opening playoff, and besting the Rats once again in the championships for the fourth straight year, 12-0.

In the continuing saga of finding a permanent home for the Mud Bowl, the Hogs hosted the championships in a new setting at the base of Mt. Cranmore in 1979, and raised $2500. The games were more organized from a presentation perspective by that year, as the Hogs welcomed Silver Brothers of New Hampshire on board as the official sponsor of the games. Unfortunately for the Hogs, however, the new home didn't give them a fifth consecutive championship, as they lost in overtime when a pass to the end zone was intercepted by the Hamslammers, who converted the catch into a 120-foot touchdown run.

Following that devastating loss, the Hogs were forced to travel eight hours and 400 miles to Holland Patent for the 1980 World Mud Bowl. In a game that Hog defensive ace Dave Cianciolo recalls as the "event that really brought the team together into a unit that's been functioning that way ever since," the Hogs battled it out in the finals to defeat the Hamslammers 8-7. Returning home with the championship, they hosted an Olympic Mud Football even back in the Valley. They lost the exhibition event to the Plymouth (now Massachusetts) Muddas 19-0, but as usual, the community was the winner as the games attracted media attention from NBC-TV's Real People and WBZ-TV's Evening Magazine, and also raised funds for local groups.

The Hogs upgraded the games to a new level in 1981 by moving the event to a permanent home at the community-built Hog Coliseum, located on North Conway Community Center land in North Conway Village. The Hogs defeated the Hamslammers 7-0 for the championship and attendance was up to 4000 with media coverage greater than ever.

The sport has continued to grow at an impressive pace over the past four years at the Coliseum. A National Mud Football League was formed after the 1981 games to further oversee the development of the sport, state directors were named to the organization, new teams were added, and improvements have been made each year to the Coliseum. The Hogs emerged victorious once again in 1982 by defeating the Muddahs 6-0, but lost to the Muddahs 7-0 in 1983, but the community truly won by receiving $13,300 and $20,675.

At the core of all the efforts is a dedicated group of volunteers here in the Valley who plan the games six months in advance and meet on a weekly basis eight weeks prior to the opening splashoff. Along the way, everyone from contractors to the Little League gets involved. As Cianciolo noted, "Even though Mud Bowl is silly and crazy, its significance is in what it accomplishes for the community and local charities. It's not just the Hogs helping out the community either -- it's the community pitching in to make the Valley better for everyone."

NOTE: The 2017 World Mud Bowl championships will be held September 8, 9 and 10 at Hog Coliseum located next to the North Conway Community Center. Twelve teams will compete throughout the weekend in mud.

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