EDITOR'S NOTE: The Super Bowl. The World Series. The NBA Finals. Page 2 has covered those championships over and over and over again, and we'll continue to do so. But we're branching out, too, into the championships of ... oh, say cow-chip throwing and watermelon-seed spitting. Yes, those lesser-known and goofy sports are coming to Page 2 in a series of stories we're calling SportsOFFCenter. First, Kieran Darcy ran up the steps of the Empire State Building. Today, Darren Rovell tells us all about his experience ... flinging dung.
BEAVER, Okla. In my roughly 9,800 days on earth, I had successfully avoided ever picking up cow dung. Yet here I am, sifting through a red wagon full of manure, trying to pick out just the right piece.
A piece that won't break when it's waved in the air.
A piece that's about an inch thick. And just the right width.
A piece that looks like a Frisbee. Or maybe a baseball.
"The key is the wind," explains one veteran chip tosser. "Your chip has to be able to move well through the air."
I just want to avoid anything that looks like what it really is.
It helps that they were dried. But not too dry, because the brittle chips will crumble in your hand. A properly cured chip has a consistency that feels a bit rubbery, but with a smell that's not overly pungent. Still, my stomach roils at the sight of others sorting through the wagon's contents without the protection of biohazard suits.
At the World Cow Chip Throwing Contest, there is no room for the faint of heart.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER
The land is sparse in the Oklahoma panhandle, but early settlers proved resourceful in spite of the lack of trees, using cow chips to heat their homes and warm their stoves. Apparently with no sticks to throw about to occupy their free time, someone picked up a cow chip and tossed it into a wagon. Soon others got in on dung accuracy craze, though cow chip throwing didn't officially become a sport until 1970, when the world's first sanctioned contest was held.
|ROVELL'S SPRING FLING|
|Darren Rovell brings his A-Game to the World Cow Chip Throwing Championship|
It put tiny Beaver, population 1,570 according to the latest Census results, on the map.
Beaver is now the "Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World" and Beaveridians derive their self esteem from their performance in the annual tradition.
"We take our turds pretty seriously here," said Brent Lansden, publisher of the local paper, the Beaver Democrat. Lansden calls the paper a "try-weekly," as in they try to publish it weekly.
The Chamber of Commerce pulls out all the stops, preparing months in advance for the celebrated event that comes every third Saturday in April.
A carnival, which fills the air with sounds of organ music and screaming kids, surrounds the fairgrounds. A plane drops ping pong balls on a nearby soccer field, each numbered ball corresponding with a prize. Harkening back to their Wild West roots, the town folks stage a re-enactment of a shootout that ignites cheers from a crowd numbering in the hundreds as the villains are gunned down.
The highlight of the parade is when "Mr. Big Beaver," a 10-foot tall statue of a beaver with a cow chip in his hand, is towed down Douglas Street.
Soon, the time comes for everyone to head to the stadium for the featured event.
Terry Wallschlaeger, sponsored by the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Committee, has traveled 1,001 miles for her shot at glory. Terri Pratt is following in the footsteps of her father James, the four-time defending men's champion. Laura Wilcox, an 18-year-old from Tilden, Neb., won her state tournament to earn a shot at the world poo slinging title.
"My dad, who raised cattle, made me practice before we drove down here," Wilcox explains.
The rules of the contest are simple:
No. 1: The chips must be at least six inches in diameter.
No. 2: Each contestant gets two throws, with the goal to chuck the chip as far as possible without throwing it out of bounds.
No. 3: No Gloves.
Dana Martin, the defending women's champion, touts her overhand throwing style as she searches for a cow chip hardened like a baseball, but Wilcox is looking for something more disk-like because she can get more distance by throwing it like a Frisbee.
Without cracking a smile, James Pratt says he licks his fingers between throws to get a better grip on things.
"How does it taste?" I ask him.
"Gritty," he says after he demonstrates the procedure.
In 1979, Leland Searcy became a legend in these parts when he chucked a chip 182 feet, 3 inches. It's a record that still stands; no one has come close in the 25 years since. Still, I've got my sights set on the record, a city slicker who thinks he knows better.
Before stepping to the launch line, I take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. I gaze out at Beaver's bravest firefighters, standing at the ready to measure each throw. To the right, in the arena's grandstand, fans chomp on fried Twinkies and onion burgers, then wash it down with a gulp of fresh lemonade. To the left is a Paris Hilton lookalike, standing out from the crowd of anxious contestants like a surreal episode of "The Simple Life."
If only I had spent as much time contemplating my toss.
So much advice. So many ways to toss a chip.
Soon I begin to doubt my abilities, remembering how bad I was at throwing a Frisbee as a child, and how I definitely could throw a baseball better. Not thinking that I had already chosen a chip better suited to the Frisbee toss, I impulsively hurl it like a baseball.
My first throw soars high in the air, but quickly falls like the first loop of the McDonald's arch. With a thud and a poof of Oklahoma dust, it lands just 62 feet away. The crowd chuckles, not at how bad the throw was, but because as I let it go, I grunted. I had always thought an extra scream provided the extra lift to those guys on the "Strongest Man" competitions.
My second throw doesn't go much farther, but it is disqualified anyway as it sails out of bounds.
Someone hands me a T-shirt that said, "I Flung Dung," the apparent consolation prize, as I turn and watch the professionals do what that they do with the doo.
Wilcox, the Nebraska champion, was in prime form. Her 82-foot throw was a career best, but it wasn't enough to place in this event. Martin's best throw of 114 feet, 9 inches was good for second in the women's division, but short of Pratt's toss of 122 feet, 6 inches.
James Pratt completed the family sweep, winning the men's event for the fifth straight year with a throw of 150 feet, 3 inches. If he wins next year, he'll become the first cow chip chucker to ever win six championships. He'd be the Lance Armstrong of Cow Chip Throwing.
"No one has ever won six titles before," Pratt said.
Like Armstrong, Pratt figures to face more scrutiny leading up to his record-breaking chance. Beaver residents will surely be watching to see if he is picking his cow chips months in advance and there are whispers among the locals about the ethics involved with the town's firemen measuring the throws. When Pratt isn't chucking chips, he serves as the town's fire chief.
As for me, I'm not quitting my day job.
I can't take this chip anymore.
Darren Rovell, who usually covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org