One Swill Game

The long and tipsy road to the World Series of Beer Pong

On Sunday afternoons in Dogtown, neighborhood regulars at Pat's Bar & Grill can be found filling their faces with chicken Parmesan and firing up smokes. As the cold drafts flow amid the raucous wash of televised NFL championship games, the younger crowd upstairs is engaged in spirited beer-pong competitions.

The game, whose origins are said to date back over 60 years, is mindlessly simple: All it takes are teams of two standing on either side of a table, lobbing Ping-Pong balls toward each others' cups of beer. If the ball lands in your beer — well, you drink it. The rules are all quite mutable. You can bounce the ball, or you can strike it with a paddle. At some competitions, it's even OK to try to blow an opponent's ball out of the cup or flash some cleavage to distract an opposing player.

Players in the Midwest have dubbed the game "beer pong," while players in the East, for reasons never fully illuminated, call these alcohol-fueled scrimmages "Beirut" — a reference to the deadly bombings that terrorized Lebanon's capital city in the early 1980s.

Jennifer Silverberg
Mike Filanowski, one half of team Dominance
Vince Kaminski
Mike Filanowski, one half of team Dominance

In any case, the late-November atmosphere at Pat's is Porky's meets Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. A few dozen players have each paid fifteen dollars to compete for the grand prize: an all-expenses-paid trip in January to the inaugural World Series of Beer Pong in Mesquite, Nevada, where the winning team will collect a $10,000 bounty.

"I'm ready to get drunk or eliminated, though they usually go hand-in-hand," cracks beer-pong enthusiast Robert Hazelwood.

Hazelwood is predicting victory for the Jolly Bastards, a team composed of two of his former fraternity brothers, Adam Schaeffer and David "Frack" Frackleton, the co-owner of Pat's. On this evening, Frack is clad in a copyrighted T-shirt with a frontal view of stick figures playing pong. On the back, the figures are shown passed out in an alcoholic daze.

On the other side of the room, a Super Troopers-inspired duo called Car Ram Rod talk strategy. "Is bouncing wussy?" asks Ram Rod's Katie Quinn, a 22-year-old Saint Louis University grad. "You will probably get made fun of. But if you miss ten times in a row, that's when I do it."

World Series of Beer Pong rules apply tonight, meaning that victory can only be achieved by sinking the balls in your opponents' six cups. Of course, players are imbibing before, during and after the competitions. By nightfall a pair of well-sedated coeds spice up the event, in a literal sense, by smearing barbecue sauce over each other, making out and removing their tops.

"I don't know whether to puke or get a hard-on," quips bartender Rocky Hazelwood, Robert's older brother. Later, an intoxicated member of Daddy's Little Squirt slaps a female player on the ass. This is not legal, and prompts co-owner Joe Finn to disqualify the team and call the police when they refuse to leave.

Adding to the surreal environment are a quirky group of improv actors and a camera crew. Running this ragtag production is James Finn, Joe's younger brother, who, in the style of Christopher Guest's Best in Show, is making a "mockumentary" about a beer-pong tournament.

The tournament at Pat's will be added to background footage for a contrived plot featuring various fictional teams, including one described by Finn as "the first openly gay professional sports team." Another has been convicted of "juicing" — that is, enhancing their playing ability by taking a supplement to offset the effects of conspicuous beer consumption.

Back at the real tournament, the final showdown at Pat's pits the Jolly Bastards against a team named Whatever. Since Whatever upset the Bastards earlier, Frack and Schaeffer must now win consecutive games to claim victory in the double-elimination tournament. The bar is left unattended as 40 spectators — including one saturated woman who keeps yelling, "What's up, bitches?" — gather around the center beer-pong table.

Frack, like any true champ, manages to block out distractions. "You gotta tighten those up a little," he demands of Whatever, implying that the cups he's aiming at are asymmetrical. Standing a full foot behind the table, Schaeffer, a St. Louis business consultant, tosses line drives. Frack's precision, meanwhile, appears to grow in direct proportion to the number of Pabst Blue Ribbons he sucks down.

Frack breaks a 5-5 deadlock with a deadly accurate lob and wins the match, which triggers a winner-take-all final contest. Visibly nervous, Whatever's Mike Evans spills a beer bottle on the table. His frayed nerves are reflected in his team's sloppy play, and the Jolly Bastards coast to victory.

"We were way ahead and I knew we could make it, so we made it," says the girthy Frack, allowing himself a small, satisfied smile.

Many beer-pong insiders seem convinced that the cradle of civilization for this pastime was a 1940s Dartmouth College frat house. (Others say it germinated at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.) Later, it spread to northeastern college campuses before fanning out, in recent years, across this great land.

To no one's surprise, college administrators, looking to quell binge drinking, have banned the so-called sport. Similarly, Anheuser-Busch, once an unfettered sponsor of beer-pong promotions, has grown hypersensitive about such boozy endeavors and goes to great pains to distance itself from the contests.

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