Alternative March Madnesses: 9 Tourneys TV Isn't Covering

After the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament, only sixteen teams still have a shot at the title. Your bracket is probably in disarray. March Madness has brought you nothing but anguish and pain. What's a fan to do? Cheer up, March isn't just about hoops. Here are some great March championships you may have missed, and some you can still catch if you hurry. Here are some of our favorites you might have missed:

1. The World Coal Carrying Championships

That's not a misleading title. It's an actual championship where people carry coal, and you just missed its most recent running on Monday. The contest started in 1963 in Gawthorpe, a small village in British coal country. Two friends, Reggie Sedgewick and Amos Clapham were enjoying a brew when a third man, Lewis Hartley teased Sedgewick that he looked a bit worn out. A vigorous debate over the two fellows' relative fitness ensued, and it was decided that they would run a race on Easter Monday while carrying large sacks of local coal.
Since then the event has gained fame, but the same basic idea persists: competitors are given a 50-kilogram bag of coal and told to run from The Royal Oak to the village's Maypole, a distance of 1108.25 yards. The world record is held by David Jones of Meltham, who made the spring in just over four minutes in both 1991 and 1995.

>>8 more after the jump.

2. West Virginia Pinewood Derby Championship

a.pinewood.jpgThe NASCAR and Formula One seasons may be heating up, but some racing purists still prefer to see cars that are carved out of a block of balsa wood and run only on that cleanest-burning of all fuels: gravity. If you're one of those fans who can't wait to see how a little graphite lubricant will affect a pair of tiny plastic wheels, get to Meadowbrook Mall in Bridgeport, West Virginia on March 28th and 29th for a two day blowout featuring as many as 600 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts racing their creations. If you can't stand to be a spectator, there's also a Mom's and Dad's Division; just tell the organizers that your kid is "that one over there in the Cub Scout uniform."

3. FIPS-Mouche World Fly Fishing Championships

a.fly2.jpgShould you find yourself on New Zealand's North Island between now and Sunday, you might want to consider checking out the 28th World Fly Fishing Championships. The event, which began on March 22, is challenging some of the world's top anglers to pull in brown and rainbow trout from Lake Otamangakau and Lake Rotoaira. Working in five-man teams, the anglers fish in five three-hour sessions, then have their catches scored by judges. The team with the highest overall score is the winner. The real winners, though, are the fish. Wait. No. They're the losers.

4. Pan Jiu-Jistu Championship 2008

a.jiu.jpgBrazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art based on ground fighting and grappling. One of its tenets is that a smaller, weaker person can defend himself against a stronger attacker by gaining a dominant position through leverage, then applying a series of joint locks or chokeholds. Sounds pretty entertaining to watch, right? Get to California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson, California by Friday to see some top-flight grappling.

5. World Championship Cheese Contest

a.cheese.jpgSadly, we already missed the 2008 edition of this classic, but there's no harm in getting excited for the next running of the biennial event, is there? The host of the event, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association describes the event like so: "This contest is an objective assessment of cheeses and butters and awards gold, silver and bronze medals to the finest products in 79 classes." So if you're tired of overly subjective judging of dairy products, this could be the championship for you to watch. Kudos to Michael Spycher of Kaserei Fritzenhaus in Switzerland; his "Le Gruyere Switzerland" took home the honors as the world champion cheese.

6. Cowboy Action Championship

Another one that's already passed, but man, do we ever wish we'd seen it. Each year the Single Action Shooters Society holds Winter Range, a national championship to discover who is in fact the fastest, most accurate gun in the West. Using only single-action firearms, the older "cowboy" style of gun that must be manually cocked between each shot, competitors ride horses through obstacle courses while shooting balloons and stalk through fabricated old-time towns to shoot at model silhouettes of varmints. Next year's competition if March 4th-8th near Phoenix. Buy a six-gun and book a room now. This video from this year's competition should tell you all you need to know:
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7. National Shag Dancing Championships

a.shag.jpg"Shag nationals," as they're known, have been held in Myrtle Beach since 1984 as a celebration of the swing-dancing variant. The championships allow both professional and amateur shaggers to be judged on the basis of smoothness, degree of difficult, togetherness, execution, and repertoire. Each couple's dance must display a number of compulsory steps, including a duck walk, a boogie walk, and a belly roll with a male lead. If you know what any of those phrases mean, you should certainly find your way to Myrtle Beach for next March's annual showdown.

8. Microsoft Server Championship Competition

a.server.jpgMarch Madness meets American Idol meets IT guys in this fourth annual championship, which takes place on Saturday at Microsoft's Hong Kong office. Three-person teams of programmers meet with a "customer" who gives them a business problem. The team must then use Microsoft's Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 to craft an answer to the problem. The winning squad gets HK $10,000 apiece, free HP laptops, and the most coveted server-guru plum of them all: a job interview with Microsoft.

9. American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

a.tyler.jpgCrossword enthusiasts' annual answer to the World Series was featured in the great documentary Wordplay, and this year's contest came to a close on March 2nd with a familiar result: Tyler Hinman, just 23 years old, won the tournament for a fourth time. The annual competition, which is organized by New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, sees top puzzlers attempt to accurately complete eight original puzzles as fast as they can. The grand prize winner takes home $5,000 and the adoration of puzzle enthusiasts everywhere.

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On Top of the World: Remembering the Lost Trend of Flagpole Sitting
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
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Flappers and bootleggers might be the most memorable aspects of the 1920s, but there's a lesser-known, yet no less colorful, trend from that decade: flagpole sitting. From the glamorous hills of Hollywood to the blue-collar dwellings of Union City, New Jersey, this unusual pastime turned eccentric showmen and ordinary people into overnight celebrities, before the crushing reality of the Great Depression grounded their climb to stardom.

Flagpole sitting is exactly what it sounds like: a person climbing on top of a towering pole, usually in the middle of a city, and testing their endurance by sitting atop it for as long as their body holds up. It began in Hollywood in January 1924, when a former sailor, boxer, steelworker, and stuntman named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly was hired by a local theater to sit on a pole outside of the building for as long as possible to drum up publicity for a new movie. Kelly, a New York City native—whose nickname was supposedly inspired by his dubious claims as a Titanic survivor—wowed crowds by perching himself on the pole for an astonishing 13 hours and 13 minutes. The stunt worked, and once it got picked up by the papers, offers started pouring in from more businesses to perform pole-sittings. Kelly was eager to oblige.

News of Kelly's exploits spread, and before long, men, women, and children were climbing poles of their own. There was the three-week feat of Bobbie Mack, a young woman from Los Angeles; Joe “Hold ‘em” Powers, who sat for 16 days in Chicago in 1927 and climbed back down with six fewer teeth than he started with after a storm smacked him face-first into his pole; and Bill Penfield, who braved a pole for 51 days in Strawberry Point, Iowa before a storm forced him down. In 1928, a 15-year-old named Avon Foreman of Baltimore even established a juvenile sitting record of 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds (he practiced on an 18-foot hickory tree in his backyard). Foreman’s accomplishment was so inspiring to Baltimore mayor William F. Broening that he publicly declared that the youngster exhibited “the pioneer spirit of early America.”

Still, Kelly was the one making a big business out of pole sitting. Even when he wasn’t holding the record, he was the ambassador of the bizarre sport. He toured 28 cities, attracting massive crowds that jammed streets and lined rooftops just to get a glimpse of the daredevil poking out among the apartment buildings and businesses of Downtown, USA.

Kelly's notable feats included an 80-hour sit in New Orleans and the 146 hours he spent high above Kansas City's Old Westgate Hotel. But even those were overshadowed by his largest-scale stunts: 312 hours on top of Newark’s St. Francis Hotel in 1927, 22 days on a pole above a dance marathon (another endurance fad of the time) in Madison Square Garden, and 23 days in 1929 in Baltimore’s Carlin’s Park on a pole that was 60 feet high. By Kelly’s own calculation, he’d spend around 20,613 hours pole-sitting during a career that lasted over a decade.

His peak came in 1930 when he lasted 49 days and one hour on a 225-foot pole on Atlantic City’s steel pier. The feat was witnessed by as many as 20,000 onlookers during the weeks he spent up top, becoming one of the first of many spectacles that would grace the pier in the 1930s. (He’d eventually be followed by acts like Rex, the water-skiing “wonder dog”; JoJo, the boxing kangaroo; and the city’s infamous diving horse routine.)

Estimates of Kelly’s fees range from $100-$500 a day throughout his career, paid by whatever outlet needed the publicity and sometimes by crowds who spent a quarter to get a view of his act from nearby hotel rooftops. And what did those onlookers see, exactly? A man on a circular padded seat high above the rabble, sometimes reading the paper, other times enjoying a shave. For food, he’d stick mainly to a liquid diet of broth and water, along with cigarettes, all of which were lifted up to him in a bucket. When he needed to sleep, he’d stay seated by wrapping his ankles around the pole and securing his thumbs into holes in his seat before nodding off. That's if he rested at all—he was also known to deprive himself of sleep on the pole for as long as four days.

The big money would dry up soon after his Atlantic City stunt, and the realities of the Great Depression put an end to flagpole sitting as a career. With up to a quarter of the population unemployed, people were apparently less interested in opening their papers to stories of men and women testing endurance at the top of a pole for more money than the readers would likely see all year.

"As Shipwreck Kelly analyzed it, it was the Stock Market crash that killed pole-sitting as the golden egg that paid the goose," a writer for The Evening Sun in Baltimore put it in 1944. "People couldn't stand to see anything higher than their busted securities."

Kelly’s personal story ends on a similarly somber note. Penniless and stripped of his daredevil veneer, he died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59, his body found not far from the room he rented on West 51st Street in New York City. Underneath his arm at the time of his death was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing his accomplishments as a once-champion flagpole sitter.

Though flagpole sitting has fallen out of the public eye since the Depression, it has occasionally shown faint signs of life. In 1963, 17-year-old Alabama native Peggy Townsend cruised past all of Kelly's highest marks by spending 217 days on a pole for a radio contest. That time was later beaten by Kenneth Gidge, who topped her at 248 days in 1971 before becoming an artist, inventor, and New Hampshire state representative later in life.

Today, the occasional pole-sitter still pops up in the news, though they're now most likely perched for protests or as living art installations. Regardless of the purpose behind it, it's unlikely that a person atop a flagpole will ever attract a sea of thousands of onlookers again—and the days when a man like Kelly could become a household name and dub himself the "Luckiest Fool on Earth" seem long gone.

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This Water Bottle Doubles as a Foam Roller
Mobot
Mobot

It hydrates and it massages. The MOBOT bottle, as spotted by Outside magazine, is being billed as “the world’s first and only foam roller water bottle,” and many outdoor and adventure enthusiasts swear by it.

The stainless steel bottle is wrapped in non-toxic EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam, which can be rolled along your calves, hamstrings, glutes, or arms to soothe sore muscles and relieve joint paint. It was designed with athletes in mind, but we could see it being used by stressed-out office workers with stiff muscles who could benefit from a little self-care. Plus, the lightweight bottle is great for keeping your beverage cold all day, whether you’re at work, at an amusement park, or at the beach. A top loop allows it to be hooked onto a backpack or beach bag.

The bottle is available in three sizes: the 40-ounce “Big Bertha,” the 18-ounce “Firecracker,” and the 27-ounce “Grace.” There’s a range of colors and patterns to choose from, including neon-colored camouflage for those moments when you can’t decide whether you want to stand out or blend in.

You can order it on Amazon, but some styles have already sold out. Check out MOBOT's video below to see different ways of using the bottle.

[h/t Outside]

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