ROSCOE - What started as a crazy idea for a fundraiser for the Epilepsy Foundation of North/Central Illinois, Iowa, & Nebraska, has become a signature event for people of Roscoe and the surrounding area that enjoy a little bit of dirty fun.
For the over 30 years, the Epilepsy Foundation’s Mud Volleyball tournament has brought mud, fun and people to Roscoe.
“This whole thing started when a friend of mine ended up playing a volleyball game in the rain. He came back from that tournament and said, ‘I have a great idea for a fundraiser.’,” said Vic Verni, executive director for the Epilepsy Foundation. “I told him he was crazy, but gave it a shot. It is hard to believe that was 30 years ago.”
The first Mud Volleyball tournament was held with 32 teams next to the True Value Hardware store located at 5506 Elevator Road in Roscoe in 1982.
“We didn’t even think that we were going to have enough teams for the tournament. We almost canceled it at the last minute,” said Verni, who has been with the Epilepsy Foundation for the past 37 years. “I’m sure glad we didn’t cancel after seeing what it has grown into.”
The tournament has grown to include up to 340 teams, with 34 courts and over 5,000 people in attendance, and according to Roscoe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mickey Heinzeroth, you have to see it to believe it.
“It's amazing to see Kelly-Meyers Park turned into a giant mud court overnight,” said Heinzeroth. “You can't even imagine what it's like until you actually see it - like a giant sea of people covered in mud having a great time - it's really incredible.”
While the park transforms overnight, according to Verni, the event actually takes a few months of preparation. “There is a lot of work that goes into this event. Between cutting the courts, pumping water from the creek, securing sponsors, securing vendors, setting up a parking lot, organizing volunteers, and everything else, we usually stay pretty busy leading up to the event.”
Verni said the one thing they do not usually worry about is people showing up for the festivities.
“It’s a big party, with a little bit of Volleyball mixed in,” said Mike Fitzgerald, event sponsor for Fitzgerald Equipment and participant for the past five years. “We look forward to the tournament every year. You just have all of these people having a good time playing in the mud.”
The festive atmosphere begins early in the morning with teams tailgating, playing games like bags and lasso golf, and preparing for the volleyball games.
“There is a lot of prep that goes into playing in this tournament, including a lot of duct tape,” said Fitzgerald. “You have to tape on everything you are wearing, especially your shoes, or your probably going to lose it. And once the volleyball starts, you just dive into the mud. I like to go head first. First timers are usually a little more apprehensive. But you just dive in and try to win your court.”
The games start at 8:30 am with 10 teams assigned to a court. The double elimination tournament plays out until each of the 34 courts has a court champion. With some time between games, players have an opportunity to get cleaned up in the showers or in the creek that runs through the park, grab something to eat or drink from one of the vendors, or return to the parking lot for some more tailgating.
“We just join the party between games and wait for our team to be called again,” said Fitzgerald. “We all want to win our court and move on and have a shot at the title.
After each court has a champion, the final round begins with the final 34 teams. During this single elimination playoff round, only one team emerges as the tournament champion.
“We start with 340 teams, and by the end of the day, we are down to one champion,” said Verni. “Last year the Screaming Sheep took the honors, and will hopefully be back this year to defend their title.”
After all of the days events, the clean up team, usually made up of high school athletes, come and begin the process of returning the park to pristine condition.
“The Rockford Auburn Knights have been a huge help to us the past few years,” said Verni. “They help us to set everything up, and then they come back to help us take everything down and clean up the place. Our goal every year is to return the park to Roscoe in better condition than we found it. We just want everyone to come out and have a good time, see what Roscoe has to offer, and hopefully learn something new about epilepsy.”
While the Epilepsy Foundation hopes everyone has a good time, the goal of the event is to increase epilepsy awareness and raise funds for those with epilepsy and seizure disorders in the area.
Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder characterized by reoccurring seizures. Nearly 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with epilepsy, and one in 26 Americans will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
“It is rare for me to meet somebody that has not been touch by epilepsy sometime in their lives,” said Amanda Rodriguez, client services coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation. “Whether they have been diagnosed or they have a family member, friend, or a child that experiences seizures, most of the people I meet have been touched by this disorder. It falls on the Epilepsy Foundation to provide education to the community and advocate for those that experience seizures. Events like Mud Volleyball provide us with the funds we need to help serve these people and fulfill our mission.”
The mission of which is to ensure those with epilepsy and seizure disorders are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through services, education, advocacy and research.
While the proceeds go to benefit those with epilepsy, the Roscoe community also receives a multitude of benefits from hosting such a long-lasting event.
With 5,000 people coming together to one location, local businesses are seeing the potential of participating in the tournament.
“We recently opened our new fitness training center in roscoe in the highlander shopping center and were anxious to get our name out in the community and help out a great cause at the same time,” said Mike Zahniser, owner of Maximum performance gym located at 4912 Hononegah Rd. “We have participated in this event for the past 10 years. It’s a great opportunity for us to have a good time with some of our members, and we have been very impressed by the tournament. It’s a win/win for all of us.”
Between the mud, the tournament, the party and the clean up, participants, sponsors and volunteers look forward to the excitement every year.
"The Mud Volleyball tournament with the Epilepsy Foundation has been a staple here in Roscoe for more than 30 years,” said Henzeroth. “The event brings thousands of players and visitors to the area to see what we have to offer and, to shop & eat at our local businesses. The tournament wouldn't happen without the help of so many volunteers and local businesses, and the Roscoe Area Chamber of Commerce appreciates everything they do!"