5 Simple Games You’re Taking Too Seriously


BOSTON (MainStreet) -- For every freshman on the quad kicking a Hacky Sack and senior at a house party hitting the last cup at a beer pong table this fall, there'll be some "commissioner" out in the real world making sure they follow rules and pay dues for those games once they graduate.

Remember the person from college who always called fouls during games of Ultimate Frisbee, yelled at you for not keeping the ball up in the Hacky Sack circle or halted beer pong games to address the fact his opponent's elbow was over the table? Chances are he or she's probably now in one of the leagues organized around those games, Myachi, Cornhole, Flip Cup or any other activity people miraculously managed to enjoy in college without a governing body scrutinizing their every move.

Besides, governing bodies work out so well for sports in general, don't they? It's not as if the National Football League could get away with drawing out a labor dispute, canceling its Hall of Fame game, calling it off at the last minute, raising ticket prices and still preventing fans from seeing the game if there aren't enough butts in the seats. It's not like the National Basketball Association can send its players scattering to the ends of the globe looking for work while the league locks the doors and shuts out the lights. It's not as if Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League ever canceled seasons, called off championships and felt it was better for everyone involved that their sports not be played.

Just because a game or sport seems simple or even silly when played on campus, however, doesn't mean there won't be someone who sees it and thinks it lacks the structure that serves major league sports so well.

"Any sport or activity starts out recreationally and as a fun pastime that doesn't have a competitive slant or edge to it," says Bruce Guettich, co-founder of the World Footbag Association, which oversees the sport involving the beanbag more commonly known by its genericized trademark Hacky Sack. "Footbag does, and there's a competitive version of it that most people have never seen or even heard of that is played over a net, kind of like tennis or volleyball with your feet."

Though integrating quad and schoolyard sports such as kickball into a more "professional" setting occasionally leads to the hypercompetitive guy at work projecting all of his childhood insecurities on a bunch of people who were just in it for the beer, it does come with the benefit of standardizing rules that can vary from campus to campus (if not dorm to dorm) and halting real-world-unacceptable behavior such as namecalling and open brawling that are just fine at a house party but will get players kicked out of a bar or off a rec-league field in a hurry.

Even with that in mind, we revisited the games of long-faded youth and found five full-grown adults can take way too seriously:

We wanted to make a video of us airquoting that name, but that's almost as annoying as not calling it Hacky Sack -- Wham-O trademark or not.

The footbag most people know, love or at least have hazy sandalwood-scented memories of usually involved a bunch of peeps standing in a circle kicking the beanbag aloft and trying to keep it there for as long as the solo in Sugar Magnolia, Fluffhead, Ants Marching, Black Rock or the generational bro hymn of the moment would allow. That's basically the game the Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based World Footbag Association has promoted since 1983 through school programs including $395 assemblies and $695-to-$895 clinics that teach kids the game and and tricks.

They also, however, created a rule-making committee in 1983 that evolved into the International Footbag Committee governing the sport around the world today. This group helped devise a pages-long system of rules for the game and devised a game called "footbag net" that's obscure in the states, but whose cementlike footbag and volleyball-style digs and spikes were highlights of the 32nd Annual Footbag World Championships held in Helsinki, Finland, with roughly 200 competitors from more than 21 countries.

"There's also what is called footbag freestyle, which is played either single or in teams of two and judged on choreography, difficulty of tricks, how well it fits to the music and errors that occur," Guettich says. "That side of the sport... I don't know if it's one half of 1% of the people that play footbag know that it exists."

The World Footbag Association is generally supportive of the sport's competitive side, has a museum and 19-member footbag Hall of Fame at its 5,000-square-foot facility and more than 97,000 members in 77 countries who've joined by ordering the group's catalog. Its larger international counterpart, the International Footbag Players Association, now oversees most of the sport's events, including this week's US Open Freestyle Footbag Championships in Boise, Idaho, and solicits free memberships around the globe along with $2 to $45 entry fees for events. World Footbag still keeps the hack going at home, however, by inviting players into the game who may never play the game competitively in their lives.

"This simple game really does find itself most often on college campuses or on middle school and high school athletic fields," World Footbag's Guettich says. "It's usually just a social, 'Hey, let's hack the sack,' noncompetitive, keep-it-in-the-air, do-a-few-tricks, passing, a real cooperative team kind of effort."

Ultimate Frisbee
Go to any toy or general merchandise store, try to buy a Wham-O Frisbee and see if you can't come away without knowing that it weighs 175 grams and should be used to play Ultimate.

Much as there are NBA regulation-sized basketballs and NFL regulation-sized footballs, there are white USA Ultimate regulation-sized "flying discs" used specifically for a game that has laid-back origins but isn't even as easygoing on college campuses anymore. The first games were played in 1968 at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., but the end zone-to-end zone game has had an independent governing body and rules system in place since 1979.

Ultimate's rule book is on its 11th edition while governing body U.S. Ultimate's membership has grown to more than 30,000. Members are divided into Beach, Club, Youth and College divisions and hosts national championships at the D-I College, D-II College, Club, Youth Club, High School and Grand Masters (over 40 for men, over 30 for women) levels. The beach championships are an international affair that take place later this month in Italy.

Much of the Ultimate-playing world doesn't commit nearly this much effort to the cause. Two years ago, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association found that nearly 5 million people were playing Ultimate Frisbee, up from 3.9 million in 2006. In fairness, U.S. Ultimate recognizes this and whittles down its substantial rulebook to "10 Simple Rules" for the casual player.

For more competitive Frisbee flingers, it gets costly. A youth membership starts at $15 a year and jumps to $29, while collegiate or adult membership in U.S. Ultimate starts out at a $26 introductory rate before sailing to $50 a year and $135 over three years and $200 for five years. Want to commit for life? That's $900, please.

Is that a lot to pay for the right to play Frisbee? If you're a player who's in a league, plays in multiple tournaments each year and checks the U.S. Ultimate Web site for results every so often, maybe not. If you're a player who hopes that one day your fleet feet and flick of the wrist will put you in the organization's Hall of Fame alongside members etched onto a plaque at its Boulder, Colo., headquarters since 2004, you may want to pay up.

The brooms don't fly, the hoops don't float and the ball looks more like a standard volleyball or dodgeball than a winged golden bug, but that hasn't stopped Quidditch players at colleges across the country from being as competitive as Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy while running around the pitch with a broomstick between their legs.

Xander Manshel ripped the game right out of the Harry Potter book series during his freshman year at Vermont's Middlebury College in 2005. He and a group of friends grew weary of playing bocce and were looking for something new. Manshel worked around the flying broom dilemma by having his friends grab ordinary household broomsticks -- or, in one friend's case, a lamp and his old high school graduation gown-turned-wizard's robe -- and turning the Middlebury campus into a makeshift Hogwarts.

"I thought it was a horrible idea and would never work, but I went along with him anyway," says Alex Benape, a friend of Manshel's who is now chief executive and commissioner of the International Quidditch Association. "It was a terrific game from the beginning, and he did a fantastic job of taking a sport in books that requires flying brooms and making it a sport in real life."

The game expanded to other colleges in 2007 and in five years grew into an organization that's received inquiries from more than 1,200 schools for the fourth edition of its $3 rulebook and has 300 teams paying either its $200 college fee or $100 high school fee. Middlebury still tops the association's standings, but the competition from schools such as Arizona State, Louisiana State and Boston University is getting a lot more fierce.

The game's also getting a bit less whimsical. Instead of spinning around five times when they're hit with a dodgeball, they simply go back behind their goal hoop for a time out. Even without any formal attachment to J.K. Rowling, Time Warner (Stock Quote: TWX) or the Potter series, last year's Quidditch World Cup in New York drew 46 colleges, 750 athletes, 15,000 spectators and 100,000 viewers on its webcast, but also resulted in a split at this year's event between teams who want to be more competitive (Division I) and teams just playing for fun (Division II). When the association's fifth World Cup takes place on Randall's Island on Nov. 12-13, it'll be accompanied by ticket fees ranging from $5 on the low end to $100 for VIP weekend Quidditch passes.

Despite all the fees, rule changes and increasing competition, Benape and the association's organizers seem determined to keep the game accessible, fun and appropriately silly. Considering it's based on a sport in a fantasy series that involves wizards in robes flying around on broomsticks at a magical school accessible only by a hidden train, Quidditch may have a hard time breaking that glass ceiling of silly.

"People wonder if we're ever going to ditch the broom and ask if it makes the game kind of silly -- and the answer is yes, but in an awesome way. It also makes it more challenging, kind of like dribbling in basketball," Benape says.

So all of that freestyle running and jumping made for some pretty sweet parkour videos and office time killers about five years ago, no?

But even after MTV (Stock Quote: VIA) picked up on videos of parkour runners getting jacked up while trying to totally vault the mall railing or doing a killer jump over a quad picnic table, there was still something that bothered free running fans. Maybe it was that, despite thousands of anonymous YouTube (Stock Quote: GOOG) comments, there wasn't someone who could offer a really insightful critique of that bounce they took off a trash bin behind Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT). Perhaps it was that no one was offering them a scholarship for jumping between buildings. More likely, it was because free running is just so darned free.

Fortunately for parkour runners with horrifying bone injuries in hospitals around the world, the Parkour Federation is there to help them "Legitimize the movement." Beyond that motto that just screams "no, seriously, this is what we do," the Parkour Federation offers members "professional support," "free video critiques" and the ability to "apply for scholarships," all for a $25 monthly fee. That fee wouldn't even cover a parkour runner's hospital copayment.

When you consider all of that "professional" advice might result only in a spot in the loosely organized World Parkour Freerunning Federation, that $25 may be better spent on better padding for some backyard, rules-free parkour.

Beer Pong
Judging by some of the struggles Billy Gaines has faced after founding and serving as chief executive of national beer pong governing body BPONG.com, he's probably the last person in the beer-pong playing world who can be accused of taking the game too seriously.

When you consider what he's working with -- players who moan about rules, competitors who write pages-long screeds about how they've "sacrificed a lot for the game of beer pong" -- it could be argued he's not taking this seriously enough. That's a tough allegation to levy about a guy who co-founded a league in which grown men throw ping-pong balls into 10 cups of beer and taunt each other while doing so because he wanted it to be more competitive.

"It started back in college in 2001 when I was a member of the Carnegie Mellon varsity swim team with my other co-founding partner," Gaines says. "We just really had a passion for the game that had nothing to do with the drinking and everything to do with the competition, because swimmers are very competitive people, much like most Americans."

The problem is that every college, bar and town in America has different rules for the game. In some places you can blow a spinning ball out of the cup. In others, the cups need to be placed in a diamond formation once only four remain. This simply won't do when you're setting up an international tournament in Las Vegas with a $50,000 grand prize on the line.

"There are probably literally hundreds of versions of beer pong games known as house rules," Gaines says. "When we came up with the rules for the World Series of Beer Pong, we figured we had to focus on a set of rules that was fair, minimized disputes and allowed people to play."

Right off the bat, that meant limiting the beer. Having players too crocked to advance to the next round of a tournament is no one's idea of a good time, so Gaines and company decided beer would be limited to 24 ounces in the front six cups, with water in the back four. They also decided that instead of letting teams get both of their ping pong balls back when they'd hit two in a row and letting teams run the table without their opponents making a shot, they'd limit rollbacks to one ball.

Gaines wanted to keep beer pong as inclusive as possible, so even the extensive rulebook goes light on game anomalies such as "miracles," where a ball stays perched atop a cup but doesn't fall in: "Congratulations -- you are lucky, but you have not proved that you have any pong skills at all. If you can prove to us that you can intentionally land a ball on the cups on demand, we'll consider changing this rule. Until then, put the ball in the cup -- that is the point of the game."

The most contentious portion of BPONG's rulebook is the rule it lacks. Most beer pong games tend to involve a wrist or elbow rule that dissuades players from leaning over the table. Since Gaines feels this limits the game's potential audience, his organization allows players to lean as far over the table as they'd like without touching it, warning that "Beer Pong Events LLC will not be liable for the resulting ridicule excessively leaning players are bound to receive from other participants."

Naturally, this has driven the fanboys nuts.

"We get comments that it would be easy to win if you could just drop the ball in the cup, but we respond that if it's so easy, why aren't you in Vegas taking home the prize money?" Gaines says. "In the six events we've had, we've had five teams of two win the World Series of beer pong and only three or four players have been 6 feet tall."

Gaines equates people calling for such rules to basketball players who say people over 6-foot-3 shouldn't be able to dunk and cites experience for the lack of an elbow rule. While in Chicago playing in a bar one night, some guys came in and wanted to play with their rules.

"One of the rules was an elbow rule and we abided by it, but these two clowns were clearly, clearly over the table by not even like a couple of inches," Gaines says. "They got agitated with me, it escalated, and they got kicked out of the bar because they couldn't abide by their own rules."

The rules prevent such ugliness, but they've also made players really good at beer pong really quickly. Last year's World Series of Beer Pong drew more than 500 teams and 1,000 players to Vegas. This year's $900 entry fee gets teams a spot at the table and four nights at the Flamingo, but also pays for a spot that's tougher to get as more elite players enter the fold. Gaines says the rising level of competition has been a blessing and a curse -- improving skill but discouraging casual players, and discouraging bars from holding events once elite players run the table.

This has encouraged BPONG to add another layer of bureaucracy to its approach, if only to help newcomers. It's setting up software that will not only keep track of players and teams at events throughout the country, but mark their cup averages and rank them into tiers. That should keep the elites from just sharking tournament money and newcomers from crying into their beers, and perhaps even draw the likes of Anheuser-Busch (Stock Quote: BUD), MolsonCoors (Stock Quote: TAP) or Boston Beer (Stock Quote: SAM) as sponsors.

"One of the problems right now is that people are developing leagues, but the league players are so good that they're discouraging newcomers from playing the game," Gaines says. "Once we start having game data on players, we can start having A-League and B-League competitions where if you're ranked above a certain level you can only play in the A League. Then we may start charging an entry fee."

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