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Doonies vs. Uppies

Ba'_2007.jpg One of the more entertaining articles I've recently read is The Washington Post's "Tradition: The Old Ba' Game," one in a special series called "Why We Compete."

Ba' has been played in the town of Kirkwall—located on the largest of Scotland's Orkney Islands—since at least the mid-1600s. The games are held twice a year, on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The premise of the game is simple:

Half of the men in Kirkwall, called Doonies, try to push a small ball into the sea using any means necessary. The other half, called Uppies, work to push the ball to a wall one mile across town. The ba', which refers to both the game and the ball with which it is played, can last anywhere from four minutes to nine hours in freezing temperatures and hurricane-force winds.

A players' place of birth used to determine his team: men born closer to the ocean joined the Doonies while those born closer to the hills above town became Uppies. (A women's ba' game was attempted but fizzled out after a few years due to low participation.) Now that all births occur at the town hospital, family tradition usually dictates a man's team.

Parts of the St. Olaf Hotel were trashed during one game when the scrum "trampled through its lobby." Though injuries are a given—scrapes and gashes, black eyes, players falling unconscious from the crush of bodies—there has reportedly been only one death in known history.

Photo: "Men's Ba, New Year 2007" by Sandwick via Flickr.


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