The Des Moines Kubb Club took six teams on a trip to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to compete against 84 teams in the largest Kubb tournament ever held in North America; The 2011 U.S. National Kubb Championship. The end of the story is we wonmore than twice as many games as we lost (58 wins and 28 losses - none of our teams finished with a losing record), half of our teams finished tied for 9th place or better (with another taking 3rd in a consolation bracket), and we brought the title of National Champions home to central Iowa.

The beginning of the story was on July 8th - my 34th birthday. We rented a car and my wife Becca (5 months pregnant), and two of my oldest friends Doug & Dwayne packed up & piled in to it to spend my birthday weekend with some of my favorite people and playing a ton of Kubb. 302 miles into a 305 mile trip things literally took a sudden turn for the worse.  A young driver didn't see us and took a left hand turn directly in front of us. I hit the brakes & swerved hard to the right but there was no avoiding the crash  - nearly head on at what I would guess to be 40+ miles per hour.  The sound and concussion of the crash and the two airbags deploying dazed me. I blinked hard and looked around, my ears ringing loudly and everything numb. My wife's voice, plaintively asking for somebody to "get me out of this car" snapped me back to reality, and I tried to open my door. The driver's side had taken some of the impact and the ruined door resisted opening so I had to put my shoulder into it to get it open. Once out and nearly in a panic I turned to the rear passenger door to get Becca out. Again, the dented door only opened a few inches before the warped metal stopped it. I pulled hard and it squealed but opened and then my wife was in my arms and my mind finally started to reel. How was she? How was our baby? Were Doug & D ok? Then: What do you do after a crash in a rented car 300 miles from home? How were we going to get out of there? What about our stuff? The Car? Were we still going to be able to compete? Was I going to go deaf? How was our baby?!?

Luckily for us no one was badly injured and the rest of the Des Moines teams were already in town. A call to Dobbie was all it took to get them to rally around us. Steve met Becca and I at the hospital (Becca and baby both checked out OK), Dobbie & Bert got Doug, D, and our stuff to various hotel rooms, rides to and from the tournament were arranged, and the question of how we were getting home was tabled - we had a bar to get to. When I arrived at the Firehouse after a long drive and having been scared out of my wits and worried out of my mind, Ryan Kolden out of Thief River Falls bought me the most delicious birthday beer I've ever had.  I checked in with Eric Anderson to let him know that we'd made it in OK and that while my left arm and shoulder had taken some damage, my "golden right arm was perfect." He laughed and introduced me to a couple he was sitting with as "The heart & soul of Des Moines Kubb," which made me grin from ear to ear.

The next morning we got to the soccer fields and Becca set to work figuring out how to get us all home. I took it on faith that things would work out. Becca was on it and we were among our people - how could it not? I put my game face on, and along with the rest of the club (as well as 174 other players) got ready to play some Kubb.

The competition was pretty fierce all day. Bert & I won our first two matches 2-0, then dropped a game in almost every match thereafter. Everybody played us tough, but in the end we were able to outlast our opponents - all but the last ones. We met Nate Olson and Joe Pendleton of Kubb'n Missile Crisis in the quarterfinals and we became fast friends - great guys, great players. We had a lot of fun playing them, and the first two games were both hard fought, each of us taking one. Game three saw them put us on our heels with a terrific  opening salvo from which, try as we might, we never were able to recover. Our tournament ended with us tied for 5th with some great teams, last year's second and third place teams Default and Tad Kubbler among them. I'm a competitor and never like to lose, but there's no shame in losing to a great team after giving it your best shot. I took off my "team" shirt and donned the official 2011 National Championship T-shirt, cracked a beer, and sat down to watch the final matches with a smile on my face. After all, my boys Dob & D were still in it and playing like men possessed!

Knockerheads & Kubb'n Missile Crisis each won their semi-final matches over Kubbsicles and Tiger Blood respectively, both teams that had definitely earned their way to the semis, setting up the finals that started around 9:00.

Aaron Ellringer (of the 2010 Champions The Ringers) said in a radio interview promoting this tournament that one of the things he loves about Kubb is the conversation you have during games. Not just what people actually say to each other during the game, but how they use the game itself as a medium of communication. It's so true - people express a lot of themselves throughout the course of a match of Kubb. Are they analytical or instinctual? Structured or reckless? Conservative or aggressive? How do they handle advantage, or adversity? Does pressure make them crumble or does it bring out their best? Do they handle victory with grace? Defeat with dignity?

Over the course of the next hour The Knockerheads and Kubb'n Missile Crisis had an in-depth conversation that all of us in the stands had the opportunity to eavesdrop on, and in doing so I believe they earned mutual respect and forged a friendship that I hope lasts for years to come. It was odd - it was the biggest match in the biggest tournament any of us had ever been to, but the atmosphere was that of old friends playing in the backyard. There were lots of smiles, jokes, and laughter, the teams routinely complimented each other on great play, and the crowd was cheering for everybody. It was the kind of match that reminds us all what we love about the game, and why we enjoy travelling to these tournaments and meeting other players.

In the end D dropped the king in near total darkness,  and I just about lost it. I charged the field (screaming my head off as I recall) and grabbed D in a mostly hetero man-hug and told him a few times that he was the God Damned National Champion. After making him sufficiently uncomfortable I realized that I should let him shake the hands of his opponents and moved on to congratulating Dobbie, then shook hands with Nate and Joe and congratulated them on a great tournament.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur - I remember lots of laughing, drinking,  back-slapping, and shouting "DMK!" Twelve months prior we had been a small group of friends playing a weird game in our backyards that no one else we knew had ever even heard of, and now we were celebrating the national championship and bringing home the title.  This was our third "road tournament", and almost as much as the title we celebrated the knowledge that we had undeniably become enmeshed in the larger community that is U.S. Kubb. What a day, what a trip!