Sunday Muddy Sunday
Reggie Conrad, at far right, grimacing because he knows he's about to be pummeled by a gridiron opponent from the Empire State, or because he realizes his blond curls are about to get a mud bath? Perhaps a bit of both, but the amused expression on the youngster at center indicates that likely no one was taking this mud football game in the Carrabassett Valley too seriously twenty-six years ago. Conceived by a group of fraternity brothers from the University of Maine who had moved to Sugarloaf after graduation, the game evolved into a sloppy fundraiser for local charities. "It started just as an excuse to bang heads, drink beers, and not give up our youth," explains David Cianciolo, who played mud football during the 1970s. "Then it just snowballed because it raised money for charity and we could keep getting away with it."
Thanks in part to an appearance on the television program Real People in 1981, the competition that typically raised only a few hundred dollars brought in more than $25,000 the following year. A series of regional mudbowls developed, with the national mudbowl championship — now held every September in a "hog coliseum" in North Conway, New Hampshire — hauling in a whopping $450,000 over the years for charity.
But mud football hasn't forgotten its slippery roots. Every year games are held across New England, including a series this year planned for July 20 - 22 in Kingfield. College football players, local strongmen, and even a pro baller or two will rototill a field beside the Carrabassett River, the local fire department will flood it, and the slippin' and slidin' begins. The games are characterized as "firm two-hand touch," but competitors say that when bragging rights are on the line, even Tom Brady would have a tough time dodging their blitz. And while the fashions have changed since Kennebec Journal photo-grapher Jay Reiter captured Conrad's slide — the cutoff jeans shown here have been replaced by Lycra — the spirit of the event and the festivities surrounding it remain the same. The "whatever" boat race still finds the same flimsy, homemade crafts floating down the Carrabassett River, live music still rings forth from the center of town, and Miss Kingfield still receives her crown at the height of the festivities.
But beauty queens and brass bands were probably not on Reggie Conrad's mind when he fielded this pass for his team, the Razorbacks, and slipped into the Kingfield muck. Judging by his expression, Conrad appears more concerned with maintaining possession of the football — and a touch of composure — as he goes hog wild during a Maine summer.