“This was the biggest tournament we have ever hosted.”

So far, we’ve been able to say that every year. We are constantly growing along with the game of Kubb itself. New people are falling in love with the game all of the time, and when they get bitten by the bug they come find a tournament. Every tournament in the Midwest grew this year, and we were fortunate enough to be a part of that. But we aren’t just cycling in new players for the old – 27 of last year’s 32 teams returned in one form or another, and that level of retention means we have got to be doing something right! We hosted players traveling from nearly every state that borders Iowa; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska. (Next year we plan to complete the set and get at least one South Dakota team to come down – we’ll offer a free one year DMK membership to anybody that can help make that happen!). We also had a couple teams come all the way from Kansas, and even one Swedish national! We are proud to say that we are one of the premier tournaments in the Midwest, and we are constantly looking for ways to continue to grow bigger and better without sacrificing our welcoming atmosphere and reputation for a competitive environment. We’ve already started laying the groundwork for the 5 year jubilee in 2014!

The weekend started for many as early as Thursday night as friends old and new started rolling into town and getting together. Friday we laid out the group pitches and chalked out the final four, then met up with a rowdy bunch of Kubbers at the social in Raccoon River Brewing Company. Lots of shop talk, friendly banter, and good-natured braggadocio set the table for some fun matches the following morning. We also introduced this year’s trophies from Aaronson Woodworks, which were just simply amazing and whetted many an appetite.

Setup Saturday morning went smoothly but for some mixed signals with the Girl’s Soccer organization, but it was resolved quickly to everyone’s satisfaction. After a fun and informal captains meeting at HQ we got the first round started promptly at 9:00am and our 4th annual FKK was underway. As with prior years, the first two rounds were mostly about early sorting of the teams, but there were a few really tough matches and some early surprises as well. One match that caught my attention in round one was newcomer “Cute as a Baton” pushing the veterans on “The Beers” to a decisive 3rd game, and the rookies were able to take it just before time was called. In the second round an experienced husband and wife team “Hordes of Oreds” proved they were ready to compete with the best by stealing a game from King Pin and playing them tough the entire match. It’s interesting to note that after only two rounds all 8 finalist teams were in the top 9 positions on the leader board.

From then on it was the Meatgrinder that everyone has come to know and love (and fear and loathe), as teams at every level were repeatedly assigned tough but winnable games against teams of roughly equivalent skill. One thing I’d like to touch on here is that going forward we will be putting up signage on the third rank of pitches officially naming it ‘Party Row’. I don’t know how many of you had the privilege of playing on pitches 15+ after lunch, but if you did you know what I’m talking about!  

It was a bit of a happy accident that we decided to change the way we ordered the pitches this year, as the three row structure really highlighted the different kinds of teams we had show up and play. On row one we had current, former, and future National Champions pushing themselves and each other to elevate their games and play with precision.  On row two we had parents playing with their kids, and newcomers challenging themselves to master this invitingly complex game. On row three we saw people who came to enjoy a fun game with great people. Or a great game with fun people – I can’t quite tell the difference. 

On the surface, our tournament system might seem to be nothing more than a number crunching, coldly calculating behemoth, dispassionately turning the participants into arrays of data which are sorted and reordered. At some level that is a valid point of view, but that doesn’t come close to explaining WHY we use it, or why we love it so much. What this system is really about is finding the right pairs of teams.  Some people look at it and see the machine – when I look at it I see the people.  Yes, values are assigned to teams, but if you trick yourself into thinking that the low numbered pitches are ‘better’ or are playing a more valid version of Kubb than those at the other end of the field then you aren’t just missing the point of our system, you’re shutting your eyes to much of what makes this game so wonderful. Whatever kind of Kubb you come hoping to play, we want to help you find it. Everywhere I went on the field I saw something great about the game on display. Whether it was competitors battling, families bonding, or friends celebrating, all were united by the love of a very special game.

After the 6 group rounds the silent auction closed and the Spirit Trophy was awarded. That was paradoxically one of  the toughest and easiest decisions I had to make the entire day – tough because so many teams had contributed so much to the atmosphere of our event, and easy because those girls were simply operating on a different level. Between the players and their entourage I think they had over a dozen people (and at least one dog) at every game they played, and the energy anywhere near them was off the charts.

The Final 8 teams took a short break as the quarterfinal pitches were set up, and all members of those teams were awarded an ‘I survived the Meatgrinder’ tag to commemorate their accomplishment – earning a seed in the elims here is no easy task, and we wanted to recognize that for all of these teams. The Final 8 was an all-star lineup; Feathers, Scott, Larson, Oman, Anderson, Ellringer, Klages , Graham, Fitzgerald, Olsen, Geise, Berry, Blazel, Peikert, …and Long (you may not recognize this name yet, but trust me, it will be commonplace soon enough!) For those of you keeping score at home fully HALF of the final 8 teams came out of Kubbtown USA, the beautiful Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Their Kubb community up there continues to both broaden and deepen. Special shot out to Kubbarate here – Sam and Max played one of the toughest lineups of the day and played magnificently. They were a lucky bounce or two away from getting into the playoffs themselves, holding a spot in the top 8 going into the 5th round.

The first round of the playoffs saw an absolute monster matchup between the 4th seeded Team Kubboom and the 5th seeded Derringer. Both teams had finished the group rounds with 4.5 match points, each having won nine games and tied one. Derringer’s opponents had combined to win 47 games. Team Kubboom’s opponents had combined to win 47 games (and also earned ONE THIRD of a game point by trailing in a game called due to time!) This is the thinnest margin I have ever seen separate two teams after 6 rounds of play – they went into the bracket all but tied, and they sure played like it too. The match was one of the most closely contested battles I saw all day, each team matching the other, round for round, throw for throw, for a full three games. Game three of this match drew as much or more attention than the finals did, with everyone pulling chairs up to surround the pitch. In the end Derringer was able to topple the third king to raucous applause honoring both teams.

The final round was deja-vu all over again. We re-ordered the finals pitches this year because we didn’t have the bleachers, but this year’s match-ups were a funhouse mirror’s reflection of 2012. In the setting sun, the western pitch saw Eric Anderson and Dave Ellringer face off against Evan Fitzgerald et all. In 2012 this was the championship match and Evan was playing with Cal as the Goofy Kubbers; this year Eric & Dave played as The Ringers instead of Sweden’s Sons, Evan’s team was Derringer, and the match was for third place. On the eastern pitch JP Larson and John Oman played against Grant Scott and his partner. In 2012 that partner was me and we played as Los Padres; this year Grant played with Dobbie as Dos Padres (with an AWFUL picture of me plastered across their chests).

Once again we had 4 states represented in the final 4 teams, and many of the names were the same. It was a LITTLE freaky how similar things were. Even the results of the matches were the same, with Padres over King Pin in the east, and The Ringers finishing their tournament with a win on the western pitch.

The rest of the day went like most tournaments finish – trophies were awarded, winners were cheered, hands were shaken, backs were slapped, good-byes were said. One outstanding feature was the Longest King toss award to Dobbie Feathers for an amazing 33.84m throw at a king, caught on video and awaiting submission to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The tournament was everything we had hoped to make it, and we succeeded in everything we were trying to achieve. Together we raised over $3,000.00 for Food Bank of Iowa’s Back Pack program, and that has got to amount to a lot of healthy lunches for a lot of hungry kids.

We’d like to offer a heartfelt thank-you to all of our sponsors, volunteers, and especially our generous participants. What a great community we are all privileged to be a part of! We look forward to seeing all of you again next year!