Alaskans Win National Snow-Battlers Championship

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There was a new competition at the Fur Rendezvous festival in Anchorage, Alaska, this year: team snowball fighting. Thirty-two teams competed in the tournament. The winners — a team called the Rum Runners — have the chance to compete for the United States at the international competition in Japan next year. Host Melissa Block talks with Gary Ray, a co-captain of the Rum Runners.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Snowballs were flying in Anchorage, Alaska, yesterday. It was the first U.S. national championship of a team sport called Yukigassen, which is Japanese for snow battle.

(Soundbite of crowd)

BLOCK: Snowballs launched hard enough to knock you off your feet. Yukigassen is played in Scandinavia, Canada and Japan, where it all started. And the winning team from Anchorage, the Rum Runners, now has the chance to represent the USA at the world championships in Japan next year.

And Gary Ray is the Rum Runners' team captain. Gary, congratulations. You must be flush with victory.

Mr. GARY RAY (Co-Captain, Rum Runners): Oh yes, we are still kind of basking in the glory of winning the national championship at snowball fighting.

BLOCK: Well, it's quite an honor, I'm sure. Let's talk a bit about this tournament: 32 teams, and the final match was against the - I'm going to try to say this carefully, the Big Test Icicles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAY: Yes, that is correct.

BLOCK: You're on a regulation-size court. There's a red line down the middle, and the goal is?

Mr. RAY: the goal is to either capture the flag of your opponent or to eliminate all of their players by hitting them with snowballs, which is the funner of the two.

BLOCK: The fun, yeah, uh-huh. And if I have this right, you're allowed 90 snowballs per team per three-minute period. These snowballs you make in advance, right, with kind of a snowball mold?

Mr. RAY: Correct. It's amazing. They actually come out just like a baseball would.

BLOCK: And how hard is it? When you get hit by one of these, what does it feel like?

Mr. RAY: Well, the first weekend, we had some nasty wind up here, and it turned the snow into ice balls. I mean, it was - when you got hit, you were like: Okay, now I don't want to get hit anymore.

BLOCK: Ouch.

Mr. RAY: So it was kind of a good incentive, yeah.

BLOCK: And you're wearing a hockey helmet with a face shield, right?

Mr. RAY: Correct.

BLOCK: If you're getting whacked with these things, you at least know you're protected.

Mr. RAY: Well, you know, that's true. And one of our players actually took a snowball upside the head, and he's like: Wow, you know, that actually rang my bell pretty good, even with the helmet on.

BLOCK: Yikes.

Mr. RAY: He's hard-headed anyway. So he was fine even without the helmet.

BLOCK: Are you a snowball thrower of long standing? Gary, what do you bring to the sport here?

Mr. RAY: Actually, this is new to us. But we have also been down to Las Vegas for the national dodgeball championships. The first year, we went down for the inaugural, we took second. And the year following, we actually won. So the dodgeball, you know, kind of paid off.

You know, you're out there dodging snowballs going: Hey, I'm used to this. I'm in my comfort zone right now.

BLOCK: All right, now here's the deal, though. If you want to go to the world championships for snowballs, for Yukigassen, you're going to be going up against teams that have been doing this for a really long time, right? You're rookies.

Mr. RAY: Yeah, we talked about that at our little victory party yesterday at Rum Runners. And they have like 2,000 teams, and so we were kind of like: Oh, so here we are the national champions. Over there, all we're going to be are basically cannon fodder, it seems like right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, Gary Ray, congratulations again, and good luck.

Mr. RAY: Well, thanks for having us. I mean, I - if you would've told me at the start of this tournament that I would talking to you on the radio today because we won a snowball-fighting tournament, I would've told you you were nuts.

BLOCK: Well, there you go, Gary Ray, co-captain of the Rum Runners, the victors of the Yukigassen tournament yesterday in Anchorage, Alaska.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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