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The North Bend Eagle


Friendly tournament has become staple of Old Settlers weekend

by Nathan Arneal
Published 6/29/11

It goes by many names: ladder ball, hillbilly golf, testicle toss and horse balls to name a few.

To a group of friends that meet in North Bend for an annual tournament, the game is known as wanger ball.

Wanger ball tournamentMatt Ritchie watches his wanger ball throw reach for the ladder.

This past Saturday marked the fifth annual wanger ball tournament held on the lawn of Bernard Larson. This year’s tourney featured 10 teams, down slightly from last year’s high of 14 teams.

Most of the tournament’s participants graduated from NBC in the early to mid-’90s, many of whom used to meet on Old Settlers weekend for a 2-on-2 basketball tournament in the driveway of LeRoy Bird.

“That was too rough a game for us old guys to do any more,” Scott Kloke said. “Everyone’s aging.”

The group of friends, now in their mid-30s, has found a much lower-impact sport to funnel their competitive juices. Wanger ball, or ladder ball, is played by tossing a pair of golf balls connected by a cord at a three-rung ladder about 20 feet away. If you are able to wrap the cord and balls around the top rung, your team gets three points. The middle rung is two points and the bottom run one. The first pair of teammates to score exactly 21 points wins.

Originally an informal gathering, the North Bend event has evolved into one of the biggest wanger ball tournaments in all of southwestern Dodge County.
As with any proper sporting event, the day starts with the national anthem, sung by Fred Ladehoff. The winners of the double-elimination bracket take home a trophy featuring a miniature wanger ball ladder made by Bernard Larson.

Matt Ritchie, a ‘93 NBC grad who travels to the tournament from South Dakota, has partnered with Scott “Buddy” Kloke every year. They are recognized as one of the most talented pairs in the field, but they can’t seem to rise to the occasion in crunch time. Call them the LeBron James of wanger ball, if you will.

“Me and Buddy are perennial second place,” Ritchie said. “We make the championship almost every year and we lose. We have yet to win a title.”

Following the tournament, the participants vote for the MIP, the most inaccurate player. A frequent recipient of that award has been Matt Larson, one of the tournament’s originators.

“I’ve had several different teammates over the years, but it’s all gone the same way” Larson said. “I just haven’t found the right teammate that meshes well with me. I think everyone in my family has won it but me.”

With the tournament growing in stature, you may think the skill level has grown over the years. Has it?

“I don’t think so,” Larson said with a laugh. “It’s just a good time.”

Kloke concurs.

“I think it’s diminished, personally.”

The most successful team in the five-year history of the tourney has been Matt’s dad Bernard and his sister Kim, who have won the championship twice.

“It could be home court advantage,” Bernard Larson said, “but it’s probably just luck.”

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