The warriors wield fat Wiffle bats of bright orange, brandishing them above their heads as they shout their respective team names.
Whether one describes these names as good-natured profanity or politically incorrect, most of these names are not fit for print. This is field crumpets, an offbeat team sport attracting players who aren’t generally drawn to such activities. It’s a loose mix of field hockey and soccer, with a heavy dose of imagination — specifically, Robbie Overton’s — thrown in.
But back to the field.
One team launches an inflatable plastic ball plastered with the face of Shrek down the field. You can almost see poor Shrek screaming as the ball arcs toward the opposing team. Wait! The ball falls just short of mid-field.
The opposing team starts singing the pop song “No Scrubs” while dancing around the field. The play is no good.
Field crumpets began in Leawood, Kan., in 1996, invented by Overton and a friend. The original game resembled badminton and the two wanted a name that would conjure images of “an afternoon on the lawn,” Overton said — which brought them to the name “tea and crumpets.” Crumpets stuck and, as the sport evolved, it became field crumpets.
More of Overton’s friends began to join the fun. When they graduated from high school in 2000, the players took crumpets with them to their respective schools.
Overton is president of the University of Kansas Crumpets Club, which participated with mid–Missouri crumpeters in two MOKAN games this summer. Crumpeters can also be found at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and in Iowa.
Mid-Missouri crumpeters, known as the MU Crumpet Division, meet Tuesday evenings at Riverside Park in Jefferson City and Thursday evenings in Columbia’s Cosmopolitan Park. The group is made of mostly people from Jefferson City and Columbia. Most have been playing for two or three years, but newcomers are always welcome.
The games are only as serious as players make them.
Crumpeter and MU senior Jamie Atkinson said she participates to have fun and get exercise. “I know I’m not an athlete,” she said.
Atkinson discovered crumpets from her friend Kristen Walle. An MU senior, Walle became involved with crumpets through friends in Jefferson City, who learned the game from the original players.
Walle stressed that although no tackling is allowed, the game is still a full–contact sport and can get violent, depending on the attitudes of the players. Hairline fractures and the occasional concussion are not unheard of.
That said, the rules of the game allow for silliness on the part of the players. At the beginning of each game, the teams name one another. As mentioned, their names are generally naughty, but anything truly offensive — racial slurs, derogatory language, certain curse words — goes against the spirit of the game.
“Even our trash talk borders on silly,” Atkinson said.
Teams are determined by something called a “farkle” — a complicated version of rock-paper-scissors, which is also used to clear up any disagreements during the game. The farkle takes place right before play begins. This means that teams change from game to game, making it hard for ongoing rivalries to develop. An enemy from one game could be an ally in the next.
“This prevents ill will from creeping onto the crumpets field,” said Overton on his Web site.
Another benefit of the farkle is that it prevents a nightmarish situation common in elementary schools: Nobody has to be chosen last — though players have, at times, attempted to rig the farkle in order to be on the same team.
Crumpeters are devoted to their sport of choice. On Tuesday, when the temperature exceeded 90 degrees and the humidity made it feel hotter, they met in Riverside Park and played three games in the evening swelter. The previous week, they played in the rain. Atkinson recalls players slipping all over the field, trying to create plays that could be carried out from fallen positions.
Crumpeter Brian Bax, an MU senior, said the players were once kicked off a field at Cosmo Park, accused of playing soccer on a soccer field without a permit. They were not deterred, however, and returned the following Thursday.
Overton said his favorite part about the game is the type of people it attracts. “It’s generally athletic people, but it’s not the sort who would be considered ‘jocks.’ It’s your normal people who are business majors or card players or whatever and spend most of their time sitting around at computers, and once a week we get together to play a ‘silly game,’ get some exercise and then go out and party afterwards.”
Despite the comparisons most crumpeters make to soccer and field hockey, obvious differences remain, such as the use of Wiffle bats and an inflatable plastic ball.
One ball usually doesn’t last more than a few weeks. The flimsy plastic is unable to take too many solid hits from the bats. The light weight of the ball is important, though, as players frequently use their bodies — sometimes even faces — to block.
Overton would like to see a professional crumpets league, an idea that also makes him laugh. “But I don’t know how to get from where we are to that point,” he said, “so we’ll just keep the grassroots feel for now, I suppose.”