What’s the dirtiest game in town that can boast about featuring good, clean fun? If you answered mud volleyball, you’d be right.

What’s the dirtiest game in town that can boast about featuring good, clean fun? If you answered mud volleyball, you’d be right.

The Y-Men’s Club mud volleyball event, played just west of the flood wall off of North Main, is returning for its 34th year.

“We’re so happy the community supports this,” said Pete Friesen, executive director of the YMCA of Hannibal. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m still shocked it’s gone as long as it has and it’s gaining steam. It’s a juggernaut. People love being here and being in it.”

The three-day Mississippi Mud Volleyball Championship, which tips off at 3 p.m. Friday, July 5, will be preceded by the Junior Tournament. It will be played on Thursday, July 4. It also will begin at 3 p.m.

The Junior event, which is open to youngsters of junior high age, is now in its fourth year. It will feature a field of approximately 12 teams according to Friesen.

“It’s grown in the last few years. We’re up to 11 and I think the first year we had four,” he said. “We’re trying to get these kids basically conditioned for wanting to play in the big show.”

Open slots

The main tournament features 64 berths. However, as of Tuesday afternoon only 55 teams had signed up.

“Usually by this time we’re either at capacity or real close to capacity. My best guess is we’re probably going to hit 60,” said Friesen.

The Y’s executive director believes the shortfall has more to do with timing than lack of interest.

“I think it’s because it (July 4) falls on a Thursday and not a Friday, and a lot of people have to work on Friday,” said Friesen. “I think next year we’ll probably pack out because it falls on a Friday and when it falls on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday we seem to do very well.”

It’s possible that more teams will want to play next year than there will be slots open.

“Sixty-four is what we set the tournament at because we know we can complete 64 teams with a double elimination. If it was single elimination we could do a lot more,” said Friesen.

While the number of teams might be down slightly, the turnout of fans will likely remain strong.

“The last few years we’ve been pushing close to about 1,000 to 1,500 a day just coming down to watch the tournament, have something to eat and just be part of the festivities,” said Friesen.

What makes the tournament so popular?

“I think it’s the uniqueness of it,” said Friesen. “I think the music adds a lot to it. It’s almost a party scene. The old rock and roll music just gets people excited and they love to have a good time. I’ve heard many of them say this is a family reunion for them. They’ve been coming down here for 15 or 20 years, playing in the tournament and they wouldn’t miss it. They’ll miss other things, but they won’t miss this.”

Historic event

According to Friesen, the local mud volleyball event is the grandfather of all such tournaments.

“We were the very first one with mud volleyball and it’s now all over the country. It’s a very unique activity,” he said. “There are tournaments in California, Ohio and Florida. It all started with a concept we had here 34 years ago.”

That could explain why teams from across the nation have on occasion come to Hannibal.

“We get them from Kansas City. We’ve had them from Dallas and Ohio. We had a team a couple of years ago from Colorado. They’re rare, but they do come in. They’ve seen it and want to be a part of it,” said Friesen.

Teams enter with different objectives.

“We do have a lot of teams that want the experience and to have a good time,” said Friesen. “We have teams that come down here that have done it for so many years, it’s now a reunion and their children are playing in it. They may not place high, but they still come down every year and have a great time doing it.

“Then you have those that are serious about it. They’ve been down every year and expect to place in the top four and they’re shooting for it.”

While watching athletes slosh around in the muck may appear humorous, Friesen offered a tip of the cap to the elite players.

“If you really want to see some top players and top athletes, come watch the championship matches because these guys know what to do with the ball to get it where it’s going. They know how to maneuver in the mud, they’ve played so many years here,” he said. “I don’t care how well you play volleyball on dry land, you have to know how to move in the mud as well as how to hit the ball.”