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The Dirt Behind World Championship Mud Bowl 2010

It takes volunteers!

The World Championships of Mud Football will be held in North Conway from Friday, Sept. 10, through Sunday, Sept. 12. One thing is clear about Mud Bowl: the show wouldn’t go on without the volunteers. Members of the 2010 Mud Bowl Committee include (in no particular order) Ryan Sommer, Jason Veno, Chris Olds, Wayne McDonald, Monica Belkin, Cathy McDonald, Josh McAllister, Lisa BB Brunelle, Jackie Howe, Phil Belanger, Benny Jesseman and Audley Williams. Dick Pollock. (click for larger version)
September 09, 2010
Originating in Maine some 38 years ago and brought to North Conway by the late Steve Eastman, former publisher of The Mountain Ear, the tradition has been carried on and on to raise money for three major local non-profits and numerous Valley causes. All the planning, public relations, advertising, brochures, sponsorship, parade planning, cheerleading, staffing the concessions stands, playing the games, refereeing, and security are all orchestrated by a huge mass of volunteers who like their mud and don't mind digging into work.

Benny Jesseman, executive director of Carroll County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and Monica Belkin of the North Conway Community Center, recently talked with this reporter about the behind-the-scenes work of the goal post story.

"Our [the volunteer committees] work begins in January," says Jesseman, who began with Mud Bowl back in the 1980s or, as she says, forever ago. The group meets monthly until July, then every other week until August, when they meet weekly until the event, which falls each year on the weekend after Labor Day in North Conway's Hog Coliseum.

Just how much time is involved? "Volunteers don't keep track of time," says Belkin, the current secretary, who joined in 1995. Belkin started out as a Hogette cheerleader for the Valley team, the Mt. Washington Hogs, who, by the way, have won 11 championships through the years.

THE FIRST TASK OF the committee is to decide on a theme for the upcoming Mud Bowl. This year's theme is Super Muddy Heroes. Past themes include: Creature Muddy Feature, Mudmerica Bandstand, Tales of Muddy Goose, Pirates of the Mudribbean, Follow the Muddy Brook Road and Mud Bowl Celebrates Mudmerica.

Jesseman explains that the teams must follow the theme and dress accordingly for the renowned and much-loved Tournament of Mud Parade, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, and marches right down through North Conway Village at 10 a.m. and finishes up with the teams strutting their stuff in front of the judges booth in front of the Conway Scenic Railroad depot. Team players will sport their costumes in the colorful, at times irreverent, and very well-attended parade, which is organized by volunteer Bobbi Steele-Marotta. Because of the date the parade falls on this year, Sept. 11, a moment of silence will be observed to honor the fallen on September 11, 2001, with the North Conway Fire Department's Honor Guard.

The committee also decides on a grand marshal for the parade. "We choose a volunteer who has been supportive of the community to lead the parade. There are a lot of people in town who are very generous but who don't want to stand out front. This year the marshal is Brian Smith of North Country Fair Jewelers. It is an honor to be the grand marshal," notes Jesseman.

Once the theme has been chosen, the committee must also design and print the program, sell ads for the program, deliver the programs, choose raffle prizes, design T-shirts, prepare radio ads, secure a parade permit, obtain a two-day liquor license to sell beer — supplied by the major sponsor, Amoskeag Beverage of Bow — and think of ways to get ever more people to attend.

Jesseman and Belkin want to attract more families to the event. "We have cleaned Mud Bowl up a bit since the old days. It is now a family affair," says Jesseman.

"We are always thinking of ways to get people to attend, especially more children. We have added more children's games," Belkin adds.

One of the games includes a football toss. Belkin says guests can buy a numbered ball for $5, which will then be tossed into the mud. The goal is to get the ball closest to the target — whoever achieves that wins $50.

There are other prizes, too. Purchase a three-day advance ticket for $10 and you'll receive two chances to win one of two $500 prize drawings. Not only do the proceeds from the Mud Bowl benefit non-profit groups, but non-profits can also sell raffle tickets and receive 25 percent of the profit from them.

The three main beneficiaries of Mud Bowl are RSVP, North Conway Community Center and North Conway Day Care. "This [Mud Bowl] is RSVP's major fund-raiser," says Jesseman.

Other local causes benefit, too.

Lisa (BB) Brunelle, a former cheerleader, raises money for breast cancer in honor of her sister. Monies have been donated to Kennett High cheerleaders, the Scouts, Mount Washington Valley Ski Team, D.A.R.E, Project Graduation, Starting Point, Jen's Friends and the 8th Grade Washington, DC trip. Through the years, Mud Bowl has raised almost $500,000.

Though Mud Bowl relies heavily on volunteers, it does incur some expenses.

"Oh, we have expenses, believe me!" says Jesseman. She says they must rent port-a-potties and pay the police for detail work. Mud Bowl has its own volunteer security team and uses professional referees who are put up in the Oxen Yoke, rooms donated by Joe Berry.

During the event there is plenty to do. Belkin is in charge of player registration. "This is a huge job! Each person must be registered, photo identification checked, insurance checked and we need a notary to notarize insurance waivers," she explains. Then, of course, the concession stands must be staffed and the games announced.

This year, Mud Bowl will receive notoriety when Rob Gehring, Senior Producer of NFL Films, will produce a feature segment on Mud Bowl for ESPN2 and NFL Network called "NFL Films Presents."


Mike Lynch, a Valley native and a former team member of the Mt. Washington Valley Hogs, has made the mud for years, but he has hung up his waders and Wayne McDonald, also of the Hogs and the North Conway Fire Department, is now the chief mud maker.

"You need a rototiller, tractor and lots of water. The fire department brings in hoses to hose down the mud," says Jesseman. Sometimes they have to bring in more dirt. It is really important to sift out the rocks, she adds. "The mud has to be a certain consistency and be even through the field," she says. Wayne takes the whole week off before the event, adds Jesseman.

Hog Coliseum in Schouler Park is also home to the Steve Eastman Memorial. One year after Eastman passed away, a memorial garden was dedicated to the man who helped bring Mud Bowl to North Conway. The Lynches maintain the garden and the site.

"We have some very great volunteers," concludes Jesseman. Not only does Mud Bowl have great volunteers, there are lots of them.

"It takes hundreds and hundreds of people. It is a lot of work. But after the weekend, we relax and say, 'It was worth it,'" says Belkin with a smile.

And believe it or not, Mud Bowl is looking for more volunteers. For more information, call Ryan Sommers of the North Conway Community Center at 356-2096. Then, head over to Hog Coliseum, look around, and appreciate just what all those volunteers have done. Yes, it's a lot of work, but no one would want it any other way.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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