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Haskell's Hot Stove

Eating it up: ESPN 8 'The Ocho' foolishness needed respite from reality

Day spent watching irrevrent and irrelevant 'sports' action
By Mark Haskell | Apr 02, 2020

For a sportswriter, in short, these are troubling times.

Nearly every league in the world has been shut down. Whether professional sports at the highest level, to youth leagues locally, it seems nearly everyone is stuck at their houses, looking out the window, waiting for life as we knew it to resume.

I’ve been asked dozens of times by various people: What does this mean for your job? The long answer is some variation of the same set of inquiries and thoughts that we are all having day to day about our own jobs, lives and families.

The short answer is I do not know.

But, until I hear otherwise, I’m going to continue to the best of my ability to tell the stories of Midcoast people and athletic issues until the day comes that full-time sports return.

Which brings us to this column.

With very little on the docket, I found myself one recent weekend saying, “Well, what can I write about?”

With no local sports happening and no national sports to opine on, it leaves few options … that is, until I heard that ESPN 2 planned to run a full day of various competitions on ESPN 8 “The Ocho” on Sunday, March 22.

As the internet likes to say, this is the content I am here for.

I woke up mid-morning on Sunday and dug right in.

The first thing that came out of my mouth, as I plopped into my recliner that morning, were a collection of words I’d never put together in that particular order before, those words being, “I can’t believe I didn’t get up early enough to watch the stone-skipping championships.”

While I cannot possibly do the full day justice, here is a breakdown/running diary of some of the more notable events — at least for me — shown on my very first “Quarantine Sunday.”

2007 Speed Stacks World Championships — You got it, cup stacking. I know what you are thinking. How can one possibly make this interesting? I’ll tell you how: Americans versus the Germans!

World War II? America. Beerfest? America. And, on Sunday, the Americans got out to a large lead against the Germans in the head-to-head cycle relay.

Each of four contestants must stack 12 cups in a 3-6-3 format, then, 6-6, then 1-10-1 before cleaning up and tagging in the next stacker.

The Americans, led by Brennan Fox, Shane Grinnell, Lexi Rindone and Andy Retting took the first of three against Timo Ruehl, David Wolf, Robin Stangenberg and Miriam Christ when Reuhl dropped a cup off the table, which put the Germans behind early. And, come on, who hasn’t been there?

However, the Germans went mistake-free over the final two relays — and the Americans could not overcome a drop in the final round by Rindone — and competed the comeback to win the competition.

2019 Sign Spinning Championships — My wife, who was a real trooper hanging with me through some of these events, summed this competition up succinctly: “Why is this a thing?”

I didn’t have a good answer, but the announcer informed us — while we were watching contestants spin signs like glow sticks at a rave — that the “phenomenon” caught on when friends holding signs on street corners to promote area businesses began doing it out of sheer boredom.

Which, made my wife’s inquiry loom even larger as dozens of people that stumbled out of Las Vegas casinos that had no place else to go or money to spend had something to watch.

2006 World Hamburger Eating Championships — Two things. First, I love to eat, but I could never do this.

Second, not to diminish these accomplishments, but these are clearly sliders.

However, we did get to watch the great Takero Kobayashi in his “office” housing sliders against the likes of Joey “Jaws” Chestnut and Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.

My favorite part of the competition honestly was watching each of the finalists — I want to say there were 10 — enter through the crowd to the stage, with a strange version of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” playing as the entrance music.

One guy was introduced as the “jalapeno-eating, chili-eating, watermelon-eating, spam-eating and birthday cake-eating champion of the world.” Try putting that on a business card.

Another was coming off a three-month suspension and they didn’t say why. Another was the “current lumberjack breakfast-eating champion of the world.”

Midway through the competition, my oldest son came into the room.

“Who are you rooting for mom?”

“The end,” she said. “I’m rooting for the end.”

The end in fact came when Kobayashi housed 97 sliders in 10 minutes and completed the trifecta of winning the 2006 hot dog-, hamburger- and bratwurst-eating championships.

2006 Bratwurst Eating Championships — Wait. Why does this play after hamburgers? They just announced minutes ago that Kobayashi completed the trifecta! Clearly these were aired out of order…from 14 years ago. I plan to write ESPN a strongly worded letter.

Spoiler: Kobayashi with the win. Also, this was held in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Because obviously.

2019 Stupid Robot Fighting Championships — This competition seems to combine backyard wrestling with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. The object is to disable the other robot — held together by suspended chains and made out of various household appliances — within two minutes, or knock off the robot’s head for the knockout.

Two men sit behind their robots and have sticks attached through the robots' hands and also can kick with the robots feet. I feel like I am killing brain cells watching this, but I enjoyed the Primus-like cutaway music for all the instant replays. Fit perfect with the event.

The Great Dane of Denmark was knocked out in sudden death in the semifinals by Down Under Blunder of Australia, despite the fact Great Dane had a muffin pan for an abdomen.

However, El Minion of New Zealand emerged victorious in the championship round, prevailing with his old-fashioned, tried-and-true method of making his robot primarily out of tuns and cans.

My wife, for reasons unexplained, continues to support me:

“Can you at least put this on mute so I can watch this [probably a cat video] on my phone?

“I need to feel the excitement, Jenn!”

2019 Cherry Pit Spitting Championships — This did not translate well to television, but I found myself practicing my form from my watermelon seed-spitting days as a youth at our Haskell/Pomeroy family reunions.

You want that tongue to be air tight on the roof of your mouth and then, and only then, should you build up a ton of air and just let that thing explode through the smallest hole between the tip of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. And just put your body into it, really explore the space …

I feel I may have lost some of you.

Anyway, congrats to Kevin Bartz, 58 feet and 3 1/4 inches for the win.

Also, a funny comment from the announcer:

“If a contestant swallows a seed, the spit is forfeited.”

No kidding.

2006 Arm-Wrestling Championships — Yes! All of this! I am immediately 10 years old again, watching "Over The Top" with my father and Kenny Loggins' songs are playing deep in my soul.

That movie taught me many lessons, most notably, never eat your own lit cigar and drink castor oil; if you want to work out, do it at dawn in front of an 18-wheeler and last, but certainly not least, if you’re in an arm-wrestling match, make sure to open your palm and close it — pinky to thumb — in slow motion and your opponent will wilt and falter.

None of these lessons applied to the 2006 Arm-Wrestling Championships at Mohegan Sun, but I did immediately recognize John Bryznk, who went on to win the competition, as having had an uncredited cameo in that movie.

Bryznk, an accomplished arm wrestler for decades, steamrolled through everyone, much the way a high school senior might defeat his little brother at the kitchen table. It was amusing watching the opponents try their damndest and Bryznk would sort of nod at them after a few moments like “OK, are you ready?” as he effortlessly and methodically pulled their arm down to the table for the win.

Of note, Bryznk defeated Eric Guevin — hometown of Buxton — to win the championship

This gave me all the feels, but “Winner Takes it All” by Sammy Hagar’s absence over the montage portion of the proceedings loomed large for me personally.

2018 Tetris World Championships — 10-year-old me is geeking out right now, but the lines are moving so fast it is honestly equal parts nauseating and upsetting that I did not spend more of my life honing this craft.

2018 Golden Tee Championships — One of the players in this competition has more than 10,000 career holes in one in Golden Tee. I don’t know if this is impressive or sad. It’s probably impressive, as I remember caring way more than necessary about my prowess in Madden, particularly between the years of 2003-2007. After all, I was the University of Maine at Orono 2003 Madden campus champion.

That being said, Mark Stenmark, whose character was wearing a generic green basketball jersey with the number 33 on it (obviously a Larry Bird guy) with snake shoes defeated Jared Decker — whose character appeared to be a female Donald Trump — to win the $30,000 grand prize.

2019 Dodgeball Continental Cup — The moment we’ve all been waiting for. I wish I could say this felt like the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Championships, but, it’s in a small, half-filled gymnasium at Mohawk College in Ontario, Canada.

But, it is the United States versus Canada!

Canada dominated in the first half and took a 12-2 lead to halftime (each game win equaled two points), but the United States went on a tear in the second half, tied the match 14-14 and took the win in sudden-death overtime.

And Chuck Norris didn’t even have to give his consent. Thank you Chuck Norris.

2019 Jelle’s Marble Runs — I could not turn away from this. A great touch was having Legos set up for stands, with marbles in the stands as “fans” with signs being held cheering on certain teams of marbles.

All three of my children jumped, screamed and cheered on marbles.

They insisted this 30-minute program stay on the DVR. Their request was granted.

2019 Death Diving World Championships — My last program of the day, and a super satisfying one to watch. A cavalcade of crazy foreigners (the event was held in Norway) jumping off a 10-meter high board into a deep swimming pool.

The crazier the jumps, the more points the judges award, so long as you can stick the landing. Showmanship counts, so waving to the crowd, blowing kisses and eye contact with judges during your free fall are all bonuses.

I saw someone plank, someone dab, another leapt over three men and many were wearing jorts (jean shorts), which one of the announcers called one of the sport’s oldest traditions. Yeah. That and red bellies.

Despite the fact that I did not see Pepper Brooks or Cotton McKnight calling the dodgeball match, or that I failed to see even one waterskiing squirrel in a pool, it was nonetheless enjoyable forgetting life’s worries for a few hours and jumping into a day’s worth of, well, certainly interesting "sports" content.

That being said, anytime the real thing want to return, I’m all in.

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