ST. PETERSBURG — The mud oozing from Spa Beach Park on Sunday was practically inescapable. From the parking lot to the Pier sidewalk, the park was transformed into a pit of sand and dirt — a perfect playground for about 1,500 respected parents and professionals.
“Doesn’t everyone like to get dirty? We’re all a little dirty,” said Jeremiah Lindsey, an employee with National Asset Protection Agency who turned his coworkers into the “mudaholics” for the fifth-annual America II Extreme Mud Wars.
The mud-slinging combat is the adult version of the city-run teen mud wars, put on since the 1990s by TASCO, St. Petersburg’s Teen Arts Sports and Cultural Opportunities program. Tampa Bay Club Sport, an adult sports league based in Tampa, joined forces with TASCO and America II Electronics to let adults in on the fun.
Proceeds from beer sales and team registration fees benefit three St. Petersburg-based charities — TASCO, the non-profit Hands 4 Hope and the Secrets of the Sea Aquarium, the former Pier Aquarium.
“This event is crucial, not just for the money we bring in but the connections we make with people in the community,” said Harris Ambush, Hands 4 Hope Director. “We always get people asking how they can help us or offering to volunteer, and that’s really priceless.”
The event has sold out each year with 48 teams each day, 96 teams for the weekend and about 1,500 participants 18 and older.
It’s Tampa Bay Club Sport’s largest charity event of the year. About 60 volunteers from the city of St. Pete and TASCO hand-filled about 3,500 sandbags and transported about 10 tons worth of dirt, purchased from local companies for about $7,000, to wet down with eight fire hoses. So far, the event has raised about $20,000 for charities and this year’s event should bring in another $7,000 to $8,000.
For Hands 4 Hope, that means more money to send aid overseas and fund local after school enrichment programs for kids, such as tutoring, gardening and yoga classes that “helps kids learn another outlet other than anger and violence so they can self soothe,” Ambush said. TASCO and the aquarium also use the funds for educational programs for local kids.
The mud war was split into 8 events, including tug of war, jousting, dodgeball and a two-story tall inflatable slide that emptied into an obstacle course, requiring participants to climb over walls, jump through tires and crawl under nets.
Even though Ryan Bucher greased up with mud for “Belly Bumpers” — essentially sumo wrestling with inner tubes — it wasn’t enough to save him from getting bumped, falling face first into the goo and then bouncing back up and rolling around for another fall on his backside.
“I came here to get muddy. So far, I’m off to a good start,” said Bucher, a member of the Morton McMuddy team made up of his wife’s coworkers at Morton Plant Mease Hospital in Clearwater.
Prizes ranging from rainbow-colored Southern Comfort sunglasses to a free stay at Sirata Beach Resort add to the excitement. But the biggest draw is a chance to goof off with friends while giving back to the community, said Tampa Bay Club Sport owner Chris Giebner. You never know who you will meet at one of the adult athletic events, Giebner said. When he first joined the group, Giebner met his future wife on his adult soccer team.
And for families like Gabrielle Bunn and her three year old twin boys Audric and Maddox, who were covered in mud from head to toe, the day was simply good fun.
Bob Valenti, former director of TASCO, grew up with fond memories of mud-based competitions with other neighborhood kids in St. Petersburg’s city-run youth programs, and it was always his dream to reinvigorate the tradition on a larger-than-life scale. The Extreme Mud War is his brainchild, and a great example of the good that can be accomplished when cities and local organizations partner together to encourage others to give back to a good cause, he said.
“Back then no one got hurt, everybody had a good time and didn’t worry about getting dirty,” Valenti said. “It wasn’t about winning, because you just got a little trophy, it was about running through the mud on a hot summer day. Adults are all little kids at heart. We never grow up.”