Economy

Snowball Fighting Champs From U.S. Aim For Respect In Japan

The Rumrunners i

The Rumrunners Brad Bigelow/Gary Ray hide caption

itoggle caption Brad Bigelow/Gary Ray
The Rumrunners

The Rumrunners

Brad Bigelow/Gary Ray

The United States has its first national champion snowball fighting team and they are as stunned about it as anyone else.

Every year, the Fur Rendezevous, a big outdoor festival in Anchorage, Alaska, celebrates winter on the last frontier. The Fur Rondy features ice games, snowshoe softball, sled dog races, a reindeer run and many more events.

Team snowball fighting is a new addition to the fun. The sport is officially called yukigassen. That's Japanese for "snow battle." It's played in snowy climes all around the globe. Contestants wear hocky helmets and face shields. The goal is to eliminate members of the opposing team by hitting them with snowballs, or to grab the opposing team's flag. The winners of this year's Fur Rondy tournament get the chance to go on to next year's world championships.

And so, a team of men sponsored by an Anchorage bar and grill is now scrambling to figure out how they will pay for a trip to Japan. The "Rumrunners" came out on top of 31 other teams – winning the final game against "The Big Test Icicles."

Rumrunners co-captain Gary Ray summed up the team's feelings. "If you had told me at the start of this tournament that I'd be talking to you on the radio today because we won a snowball fighting tournament, I would of told you you were nuts."

Ray told All Things Considered's Melissa Block that his team's experience playing dodgeball may have given them a leg up on the competition.

"The dodgeball kind of paid off," he says. "The next thing you know you're out there dodging snowballs goin' 'Hey! I'm used to this! I'm in my comfort zone right now.'"

But Ray, who is a 39-year-old heavy equipment operator, admits that an international snowball competition will test the Rumrunners' skills: "Here we are the national champions. Over there, all we're gonna be are basically cannon fodder."

Ray says the team is making plans to practice and come up with "legitimate strategies. Our goal is to make the top 20, because ... no non-Japanese team has ever broken the top 20."

The other big challenge is getting there. The Rumrunners are looking for sponsors for the international competition. So-far, they have an official e-mail address: helpusgettojapan@alaska.net.

You can listen to the Melissa Block's interview with Rumrunner Gary Ray here:

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Note: This post originally identified Wright Bryan as its author. The author, in fact, was Franklyn Cater, a producer with All Things Considered.

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