5. U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association
Definitely do not try this at home. The athletes in the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association’s sanctioned races refashion the mundane lawn machine, Gilligan-like, into a mean, not-so-green speed machine (the blades have been removed for obvious reasons). In fact, some of the fastest modified mowers can reach 85 mph (60 mph on a track). The association’s founder, Bruce Kaufman, definitely has a sense of humor. Not only does he call himself “Mr. Mow-It-All,” but the inaugural race was announced on April Fool’s Day, and top contenders have earned monikers such as “Turfinator” and “The Lawn Ranger.” Since 1992, USLMRA has grown to dozens of chapters in more than 40 states, sponsoring hundreds of races. It’s also caught the attention — and how can you ignore these visuals? — of the Discovery Channel, ESPN and The New York Times.
4. World Adult Kickball Association
When baseball-meets-big-red-rubber-ball it elicits fond childhood memories or, if you’re a member of the World Adult Kickball Association, you have much more recent memories — maybe from yesterday or a few weeks ago. This premiere kickball organization was started by a group of friends in the Washington, D.C.-area in the late 1990s, and has blossomed into thousands of players representing leagues in more than 35 states. Its World Kickball Championship Weekend in October boasts the competitive Founders Cup (read: invite only) and the more casual Kickball Games (sign up, if you’re so inclined). A staple of school playgrounds since the early 20th century, kickball has been elevated to a sport where far more than bragging rights is at stake when the cream-of-the-kickball-crop descends upon Las Vegas each year for the championship, as teams compete for prizes, including $10,000 in cash. There’s also much more than an athletic component to the league, as officials bill it as the “largest coed social club in the country,” and post-game social gatherings are part of the fun. WAKA has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities through its events.
3. Big League WIFFLE Ball
David N. Mullany would be so proud to see how the game he invented in the 1950s to be easy on young arms — not to mention on windows — has evolved into a professional association boasting teams and tournaments played around the world. The brains that brought WIFFLE ball from backyards to big league, Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo, grew up in Connecticut, a WIFFLE ball’s throw from where Mullany developed this perforated plastic take on baseball. These childhood friends have seen their league hit the big time, as it’s been featured on Fox Sports’ This Week in Baseball and other TV shows. The league also has a focus on charity, with proceeds from tournaments going to support cancer research and Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
2. National Dodgeball League
Perhaps the title of this league should come with a disclaimer, as in “Warning: May bring back long-suppressed memories of the schoolyard bully who stuffed you in a locker after a dodgeball game.” Former victims of schoolyard dodgeball who are good enough to pass muster during try-outs to test speed, reflexes, catching ability and “game technique” can join the National Dodgeball League. There are nearly 20 professional teams representing two conferences in the U.S., and teams have sprouted up in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries. At its most basic, the sport involves either hurling a ball so it hits your target or avoiding it if you’re on the receiving end, but it’s far more advanced at this level, with athletes skilled in techniques such as blocking and stalling. To further enhance the professional atmosphere, the NDL also boasts a cheer squad, the Dodgettes, and an official league band, Fatkid Dodgeball.
1. Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating
Name your favorite food. Pizza? Check. Hamburgers? Check. Cheesecake? Check. Now, put all your health and waistline concerns aside, and imagine eating all of said food that you want and getting paid thousands of dollars to do so in one sitting. Problem is, you’ll have to eat nearly 50 slices of pizza or 11 quarter-pound burgers in 10 minutes to be a serious contender. You’ve probably seen at least one of the 80 annual Major League Eating-sanctioned events — Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog contest — which is as American as (a slice) of apple pie since it’s been televised by ESPN every Fourth of July. The reigning “weapon of mass digestion” is Joey Chestnut, a 230-pound, 20-something who has downed nearly 70 hot dogs with buns in 10 minutes at the aforementioned Nathan’s contest. Chestnut also holds other records, including eating 118 jalapenos in 10 minutes, and devouring 23 six-inch Philly cheesesteaks in the same time period. So far, we’ve covered the foods you probably want to eat, but the MLE also posts world records related to downing beef tongue (three pounds, three ounces in 12 minutes), cow brains (57 in 15 minutes), pigs’ feet and knuckles (2.89 pounds in 10 minutes) and SPAM (six pounds in 12 minutes). Still hungry for more? One of the regulars on the competitive eating circuit is the eternally youthful-looking, 40-something, Sonya Thomas. She’s called the “Black Widow” for a reason; at 105 pounds, she has consumed 65 hard-boiled eggs in six minutes, 46 mince pies in 10 minutes and 80 chicken nuggets in five minutes. “Speed eating” is not for teenagers trying to show off to their friends. In fact, you have to be 18 to participate, and MLE stresses that these events are held in highly controlled venues with medical technicians present. Perhaps the most surreal aspect of all this is that MLE has gone so mainstream, there is even a Wii game, “Major League Eating: The Game.”
One More: Fantasy Fishing League
For avid anglers, fantasy football may be small fry, especially now that fantasy fishing is no longer just a whale of a tale. Leveraging lake reports and angler stats, participants create a roster featuring 10, top-notch Walmart FLW Tour anglers — ultimately picking tournament winners and winning weights (as in the fish) to break a tie. Just as many of these flesh-and-blood anglers are accustomed to netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings, fantasy fishermen can reel in the goods as well, including a $1,000,000 grand prize, a fishing boat (of course) and a Chevrolet Silverado.