'Footbag' champs converge on Westmoreland Park
After a two-decade absence from the very metropolitan area where the sport began, the outdoor portion of the 38th annual World Footbag Championships came to Westmoreland Park on Monday August 7.
Championship meet coordinator Ethan "Red" Husted admitted that many casual players refer to the object of their sport as a Hacky Sack, which is a trademark of Wham-O Inc. of Carson, California – but, to avoid complications, it's simply called a "footbag".
"This competition is been all over the world, including in San Francisco, Helsinki, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Prague, Montreal, Warsaw – and now, it's here in Westmoreland Park!" Husted exclaimed to THE BEE.
Countries represented at the competition this year included the United States, Canada, Spain, Czech Republic, Japan, China, Finland, Switzerland, and Venezuela, just to name a few.
After starting to footbag, in 1994, he began to pursue excellence. "With my kind of obsessive personality, I wanted to be one of the best, and kept practicing, then trained with professionals," Husted recalled. After being a footbag star athlete for many years, Husted said he "retired", to teach and run the tournaments.
With that, he introduced John Stalberger, who, with a partner, Mike Marshall, actually invented the original Hacky Sack product in 1972 in Oregon City.
"Most people believe that the sport is limited to standing around the circle, kicking the footbag, and laughing," Stalberger reflected. "But the actual sport is played over a badminton net, and can be played singles or doubles, using only your feet to kick, and spike it over the net."
He went on to say that there is also a "Freestyle" division of competition, in which a panel of judges grade the difficulty of the kicks and the moves the players are performing – without dropping the footbag.
Stalberger then introduced native Portlander Kenny Shults, whom he referred to as the "Babe Ruth of Footbag".
After receiving a footbag for Christmas in 1977, Shults said he, too, became "obsessed" with it. By age 12, Shults recalled, he began to travel the nation, and later the world, demonstrating the Hacky Sack for the manufacturer. "I fit the profile as the kid to take to shopping malls and sporting goods stores, to show people that it's not very difficult; that even this little kid can do it," he grinned.
Shults eventually succeeded at his goal: Making it into the Guinness Book of Records. "My record has been superseded – all records are made to be broken – but I've got my Guinness Book on the bookshelf for my grandkids to see."
The organizers then turned to introducing the participants in this year's competition, who went on to demonstrate their prowess with a footbag.
"Be it the 'aerial jousting' of footbag net competition; or the riveting, acrobatic art of freestyle competition; or just kicking with friends – footbags provide great fun," Husted assured us.