10 Unusual Sports
By T. Wayne Waters
When sports events planners think about hosting an event, they tend to think of traditional sports — softball, football, soccer and the like — or maybe certain hot extreme sports such as endurance/obstacle races or various kinds of motorized races. But there are a number of unusual competitive sports that might not come readily to mind yet offer good opportunities to establish an association with a growing and unusual sport, especially in modestly sized communities.
Polo horses require breeding and expensive care and feeding. Bicycles require inexpensive manufacture and maintenance. Polo requires huge expanses of well-tended fields. Bike polo requires only an enclosed rectangular parking lot, tennis court or roller hockey rink.
Bike polo is a simpler, more accessible take on a traditional sport. And it’s growing in popularity as its two primary North American competition organizations coordinate competition to form an expansive association covering the continent. The North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Association (NAH) and the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Champs (WHBPC) now organize squad-format play in eight U.S. regions, some of which include portions of Canada; one wholly Canadian region; and one region in Mexico.
Three players of each five-player team compete at any given time on a court with goals set up at each end. The sport uses special mallets and balls similar to those used in traditional polo and games last for 30 to 60 minutes.
WHBPC’s main event this year is a four-day early-October competition to be held on three courts at Coolavin Park in Lexington, KY. All courts are 120 feet x 60 feet with full four-foot perimeter boards and symmetrical court entrances. The organization is still working on finalizing the total number of teams to be included in the event.
CAMEL & OSTRICH RACING
Camel racing is a popular sport in a handful of Middle Eastern countries and Australia, all of which feature considerable expanses of desert terrain. But racing dromedaries — and ostriches, too — has been around for a long time in the U.S., albeit it in only a few spots. Usually more an event for pure fun rather than true sports competition in the U.S., it’s hardcore sport in other lands and nothing says it couldn’t be here.
This month marks the 58th International Camel & Ostrich Races in Virginia City, NV. Adventurous festival goers holding on tightly from atop the backs of the large animals race around a track at the Virginia City Arena & Fairgrounds. Camels and ostriches can both run at speeds of up to 40 mph, which makes such racing a true testament to the frontier spirit.
The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J., offers a more professional take on camel and ostrich racing. The ostriches pull jockeys in carts; the camel jockeys ride the back of the humped beasts. The sixth annual Cameltonian and Ostrich Derby will be held at the venerable racetrack this summer.
Meanwhile, down in Chandler, Ariz., the 30th Annual Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival is scheduled for March 10-12, 2018 at Tumbleweed Park. This just might be an unusual sports event ripe for legitimate organized competition on a far larger scale, at least as an annual event in more places.
Curling is not new, of course, but to a lot of Americans below the Canadian border, it is decidedly … unusual. Perhaps the only sport other than Quidditch that might bring brooms to mind, curling’s shuffleboard-like sliding-an-object-to-a-bull’s-eye-score scenario and the defensive counterpart maneuvers have gained considerable growth in recent years.
“Curling continues to grow in the U.S. due to NBC’s commitment to airing not just the Olympic Winter Games but the Curling Night in America series,” said Terry Davis, director of communications for USA Curling. “Without the TV exposure, we would not have seen the upward growth that we’ve experienced in the past decade.”
In 2015, membership in the U.S. Curling Association (USCA) topped 20,000 for the first time. The past seven years have seen a 70-percent increase in the number of curling clubs registered with the national organization, many at multi-use ice arenas that have allowed expansion to many Southern and Western states. Curling opportunities are now available in 45 of the 50 states.
FootGolf, just as you might suspect, is a game of golf played by kicking a ball into a hole. Instead of using a traditional golf ball, FootGolf requires a regulation FIFA size 5 soccer ball. Instead of the ball being struck with golf clubs, it is advanced with a player’s feet. And the golf hole in FootGolf is a 21-inch diameter cup. As in golf, lower numbers mean victory as players attempt to get through a shortened round at a conventional golf course equipped with FootGolf holes, with the fewest kicks of the ball.
“FootGolf is quickly becoming the fastest-growing sport in the nation, where the American FootGolf League has over 500 courses in 49 states,” said Roberto Balestrini, founder of governing body American FootGolf League (headquartered in Palm Desert, CA) and president of the Federation of International FootGolf. “This year, 33 countries will play host to nearly 10,000 players participating in the World Tour, with 271 stops that cover 6 continents and 21 of the tournaments take place in the U.S.”
American FootGolf League competitions take place in four regions, leading to regional championships and ultimately to the U.S. National Championship hosted by Desert Willow Golf Resort, the home course of the American FootGolf League.
Kickball is another sport that certainly isn’t new and might not even be considered unusual — except in the context of adults playing the beloved childhood game in organized league play with tournaments. There is a good bit of adult kickball play going on these days in the U.S. ranging from very informal, very loosely organized play to small local unaffiliated leagues to broader organizations to the organization generally regarded as the premier adult sports league for kickball, CLUBWAKA. CLUBWAKA offers kickball leagues — and leagues for other sports — in 50 cities and organizes events around the country. The unusual-sounding name for the organization reflects its origin as the World Adult Kickball Association.
“From the data we have from CLUBWAKA kickball tournaments since 2012, we’ve seen a 15 percent increase in attendees and events each year, including a record 3,000-plus players at our flagship tournament series, WAKApalooza Weekend, held in October,” said Sarah Nelson, marketing projects manager for CLUBWAKA. “In addition, we had more than 2,000 players compete in our CLUBWAKA Regional Tournament Series in 2016. With the addition of competitive kickball tournaments and new game concepts like glow-in-the-dark kickball and beach kickball, we expect this tournament trend will continue.”
“Lawnmower racing has been spreading like untreated crab grass for 25 years,” said U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA) President Bruce Kaufman, a k a Mr. Mow It All. “We have 50 chapters and clubs from coast to coast, and we’re mowing and growing every year. We turn a weekend chore into a competitive sport for thousands of racers, families and fans nationwide, and our future looks bright. The mow the merrier!”
Lawnmower racing is just what it sounds like: commercially designed self-propelled rotary or reel mowers with the cutting blades removed are driven by helmeted drivers on dedicated lawnmower racing tracks, city-supported tracks and at commercial venues. USLMRA races take place at fairs, festivals and other events. The Northbrook, Illinois-based USLMRA has a four-tiered racing program with 11 classes of competition. Longtime sponsor STA-BIL, the producer of the fuel stabilizer and gas treatment, sponsors the sport’s 18-event National Lawnmower Racing Series.
Variously called lumberjack sports, timbersports or woodsman competitions, sports events that include competitions such as log rolling, pole climbing, block chopping and other disciplines historically mastered by lumberjacks in the timber industry are not your typical fare. There is no single governing body for lumberjack sports but two of the largest sanctioning bodies for multiple-state competitions are the American Lumberjack Association and STIHL TIMBERSPORTS.
The STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series is a professional-level series involving five regional qualifying competitions that whittle the number of competitors down to the top five who then move on to the Championship round. The top U.S. chop/saw competitor advances to the World Championship competition in Holland. The STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series is televised on networks around the world in more than 60 countries.
The STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series has grown the fastest, however, and has leaped from just a half-dozen competing schools 12 years ago to 62 schools today. The lumberjack (and lumberjill) collegiate series is broadcast on ESPNU, and leads to a collegiate championship.
It’s doubtful many sports event planners remain unaware of pickleball at this point but it is certainly a unique new-ish sport that is growing rapidly. A mix of tennis, table tennis and badminton, pickleball uses a small plastic ball with holes in it; a special paddle, similar to a table tennis paddle but larger; and a modified tennis net on a badminton-sized court. It can be played indoors or outdoors, in singles or doubles competitions.
According to Justin Maloof, executive director of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) based in Surprise, Ariz., membership has increased 325 percent over the past three years, with the largest increase occurring over the past year. There are more than 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States and at least one location in each of the 50 states.
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2016 Participant Report lists pickleball participation at 2.5 million players in the U.S.
This oddly named game is inspired by the popular Harry Potter novels, though its national governing body, US Quidditch, has no connection to the publications, the publisher or to author J. K. Rowling. Quidditch has been described as “a mixed-gender full-contact sport with a unique mix of elements from rugby, basketball and dodgeball.”
A Quidditch team has seven athletes who play with brooms between their legs at all times as they endeavor to score by getting the volleyball, called a quaffle, through any one of three vertical hoops on stands at the opposite end of the field. Players may run with the quaffle, pass it or kick it. Also involved is a dodgeball that can temporarily put a player hit with it out of productive play, and the capture of a special “snitch” ball (the size of a tennis ball) ends the game.
US Quidditch, based in Seattle and only five years old, had 148 teams competing last year. The organization holds tournament play leading to regional championships and the US Quidditch Cup for the national championship. The US Quidditch Cup is played in a different locale each April; this year’s event was held at Austin-Tindall Regional Park in Kissimmee, Fla. The large event featured 60 teams from across the league. The US Quidditch Cup 11 will be held April 14-15, 2018 at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex in Round Rock, Texas. The facility has 10 full size soccer fields, two of which are championship style with video scoreboards and bleachers.
In making the announcement about hosting the event, Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Nancy Yawn said, “We are honored to host the players, families and fans in Round Rock for the US Quidditch Cup in April 2018!”