COLUMBIA — Dozens of people from all around mid-Missouri came to Columbia on Saturday to play in the mud.
Amidst the cornfields of MU's Bradford Research and Extension Center in southeast Columbia, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri held its fifth annual mudball competition.
The event, a volleyball tournament held in two pits filled with mud, focuses primarily on raising awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Ryan Olson, the group’s recruitment and outdoor program coordinator, said the group has stuck with mud volleyball because it appeals to the age range of potential big brothers and sisters.
"We’re trying to get people to have a good time and to get and keep our name out there,” Olson said. “We get people coming from all over, it seems — from 100 miles away to local people.”
The tournament pitted eight six-player teams against one another for the title of mudball champion. Although many players were apprehensive at first, the general inevitability of getting dirty soon loosened the inhibitions of the participants. Shoes and shirts began to get tossed aside, saturated with mud in a matter of minutes. The once-timid participants dove to keep balls alive with reckless abandon, if not with a particularly high level of success.
The conditions took their toll on the teams. Calan Cooper, 19, said the traditional bump-set-spike approach goes out the window when the mud comes into play. The strategy of her team, the Dirty Half Dozen, was far simpler: “Hit it over the net.”
“You're sliding around like nobody's business, and you can't control it,” Cooper said. “Once you start, you're done. You can't stop.”
The winning team, Hot Mess, was competing in the event for the third time. The group, which mostly hails from Linn, stumbled upon the event three years ago while looking for mud volleyball events in the area. They didn’t win a single game their first year, but Jennie Sieg, 47, said their past failures helped them discover that keeping it simple was the right path to take.
“The experience definitely helped,” Sieg said. “You get to learn that you just go over the net with the ball."
No amount of experience could keep a team from a heavy layer of mud. Hot Mess decided to embrace the filth, taking celebratory face-first slides through the mud after they emerged victorious.
“I have mud in places I didn’t know I had,” Sieg said.