Jugger: St. Louis' Own Post-Apocalyptic Bloodsport

Spring is officially in the air. In the St. Louis sporting world that can mean only one thing...grown men and women beating each other with clubs as they attempt to impale a dog skull on a stake.

What, you were expecting something about the Cardinals? Too bad, we're talking about the Competitive Underground Jugger League.

If you've never heard of Jugger you're not alone. The sport is inspired by the '80s cult classic film The Blood of Heroes. The movie stars Rutger Hauer and takes place in a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world. The plot centers around a game called Jugger, in which two five man teams bludgeon each other to death with chains and clubs. The game ends when one team is able to place a severed dog's head on a spiked pole. Think of it like quidditch from Harry Potter, only with blood splatters instead of broomsticks.

Here's a trailer for the film to help illustrate:

A group of devotees here in St. Louis have adapted a set of rules that keeps anyone from actually dying. Now they play the game every Saturday at Aubuchon Park in Hazelwood.

The first thing to go in the new rules was the dog skull; it was replaced by rawhide strips bound with duct tape or, in a pinch, a nerf ball. Ten-foot rattan poles padded with strips of mountain bike tires are used instead of clubs and chains. The players protect their bodies with lacrosse and hockey gear.

Bryant Cantrell, the founder of the Competitive Underground Jugger League, says he'd seen others try to approximate the game by using foam-padded weapons but wanted to up the intensity level.

"It was a fun game but it was kind of cutesy," he says. "We wanted to recreate the sport from the movie without actually killing each other. Until the apocalypse comes we still need to go to work the next day."

Cantrell, a 32-year-old communications wiring technician, sbays he started playing with friends last spring and recruited more players through the MySpace pages for more traditional combat sports like paintball.

"It's kind of a hard sell: come out and get hit with sticks," he says. "And it kind of looks intimidating, what with the weapons and all. But we're not hurting each other. Our worst injury last year was a smashed thumbnail."

Cantrell was able to cobble together enough people to form three five-person teams plus a pool of reserve players.

Cantrell explains the rules and scoring like so:
It's beauty in simplicity. The entire goal is put the skull on a stake at the end of the field. The competitve aspect is how you advance. Only one player is allowed to advance the skull. They're called the quick, it's like the halfback [in football.] You try to guide them to the stake by whipping and whomping their way through. 

We didn't want to be concussing each other perpetually so rather than injuring someone, if you make solid contact they drop for four stones. Time is kept in the game by throwing stones at a road sign. We play three periods of a hundred stones. In the movie it was just put the skull on the stake and the game is over. That makes for way too quick of a game with our non-bloody system. We just keep score throughout three periods and whoever has the most skulls wins.
The league kept statistics and played for a championship trophy dubbed "The Bucket of Blood."

"The trophy is a beautiful thing," Cantrell says. "It's a great big metal bucket welded and bolted down to a crankshaft. The winning team gets to take the bucket, filled with fake blood, and throw in the air. The more blood you get on you the better luck you'll have in the coming season."

The 2010 Competitive Underground Jugger League is still in its preseason and is looking to add new teams and players. Cantrell says anyone older than 18 is welcome and they have spare equipment for first-timers. The matches start at 1 p.m. in Aubuchon Park. The league has a Facebook page and is also on MySpace, where you can find this video:

Competitive Underground Jugger League Pre-season Promo - The most amazing bloopers are here

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