Trash talk, cursing - all in the game

Rob "Ace" Schultz of Wilkes-Barre lines up a shot while teammate Alex Kowalczyk watches.
Rob "Ace" Schultz of Wilkes-Barre lines up a shot while teammate Alex Kowalczyk watches. (AMY ROSENBERG / Staff)
Posted: June 28, 2011

ATLANTIC CITY - There is trash talking in sports. And there is trashed talking in life. In beer pong, perhaps as nowhere else, they are one and the same - even in competitive beer pong, where the iconic red plastic cups are filled with water, not beer, and the beer costs $5 a bottle.

And so, as you navigate around the 2-by-9-foot tables filling the ballroom at Resorts Casino Hotel - the site this week of the $25,000 World Pong Tour Championship - you might hear seriously intense, and profane, attempts to psych out the other guy. You might see two fullback types rolling on the floor, bellowing.

In competitive beer pong, these are known as "distractions," and they are part of the competition. What is the challenge of beer pong if not to triumph despite distractions?

"It doesn't faze me at all," said Jason Cooper, 24, of Upper Darby, sporting - perhaps ironically - a Roy Halladay shirt as well as a focus that was, frankly, Halladay-esque. "I am in the zone. I drown it out."

But Cooper and his fellow Red Lobster waiter Dave Richards, 25, were no match for the intensity of Joey Poindexter and the fierce wildness of Nick Norman, 21, of Dallas.

At the tables, the pair were the C.C. Sabathia and Mitch Williams of beer pong - a quiet yet burly professionalism on Poindexter's part, a crazed yet uncannily effective clutch performance possible with each of Norman's throws.

Poindexter, of Gaithersburg, Md., will not give his age because, says his pal, female champ Christina "Schmitty" Schmidt, 24, who took that title Sunday, "he's way too old to be doing this."

"I've been playing for too long," Poindexter, a real estate appraiser, said, waiting for his table outside the Resorts ballroom. But the lure of a $15,000 first prize - not to mention the leaning-is-allowed rule of competitive beer pong - brought the 6-foot-3 Poindexter back to the table.

His teammate, Norman, had no hesitation about giving his age. "I'm 21 and I've been playing for seven years," said the Texan, perhaps the room's loudest trash/trashed talker. Too profane to quote even a little.

"The thing that differentiates us from house parties is that drinking is not mandatory," said Poindexter. "It's no different than bowling and darts."

The other big difference is that in competition "the first thing you have to do is stop complaining." Leave the whining back in the frat house, bar, or suburban basement.

In house rules, Poindexter explained, there is no leaning allowed, and your opponent can call you on an elbow that extends onto the table. But in tournaments - this one has 246 teams - it's too unwieldy to enforce the no-lean rule.

The other big difference is a foot. These 9-foot tables are 12 inches longer than most players are used to.

The finals are Tuesday, with the championship match scheduled at 10 p.m. And yes, there will be regional loyalties displayed in the stands.

The Sacramento team of Mike Seivert (who won last year with Byron Findley) and Simon Singley, both 27, hewed to the West Coast tradition of beer pong, a bit more laid-back than the in-your-face Texas style of Norman, or the trained-at-the-Starboard-in-Dewey Beach, Del., experience of Wilmington contractor Andy Ziegler, 48.

Beer pong, like any sport, is not without its feel-good stories, and so there was the father-son duo of Rich Lochren, 45, and Alex Lochren, 24, of Long Island, bonding over Coors and cups. "I've always liked drinking games," said Dad. "Back in the day, it was playing quarters. I'm the old guy here, I'm not yelling or making yo momma jokes. But if I have to make a young kid cry, I won't hold back."

Yes, the play is intense, 10 cups in pyramid formation at each end of the table, beer bottles and cups of Jack and Coke in the middle (this does not affect play).

The players aim and toss, and, as in party rules, if the ball lands in the cup, the cup goes off the table. First team to get rid of all its cups wins. The team tells the other side how it wants the remaining cups configured. There is a rebuttal chance. You can redistribute the water. You can use distractions. You can lean. You can drink beer to take the edge off, but it's not required.

"We don't give out any beer," said World Pong Tour Commissioner Sam Pines, 28, who founded the company in 2006. "We're into the sport. We're trying to make it legitimate. There's a lot of hand-eye coordination."

One of Tuesday's most intense games featured the "Cleaning Up" team of Alex Kowalczyk, 22, and Rob "Ace" Schultz, 25, of Wilkes-Barre, against Cleveland's "Almost Famous" team of Matt Martin, 23, and Anthony Anthous, 22. Play went back and forth until each team had one cup left for four rounds, which would have been nerve-racking if not for all the alcohol.

In the end, Martin and Anthous emerged with the victory, by the slimmest of beer pong margins. They got their start playing at parties at Ohio colleges they were not actually attending and think of themselves as the yin and yang of beer pong.

"When I'm sober, I do well," said Anthous. "If he stays sober, he's off. . . . He's the drunk one. I'm sober."

The players seemed to welcome the somewhat head-scratching idea that competitive beer pong is played with water in the cups, not beer. Is it really beer pong? In a meta sort of way, it is. For one thing, the focus is on ability, not how long you can stay upright. For another, it's tidier.

Beer pong with beer is "disgusting," said Jason Cooper of the Halladay shirt. "You get a ball in the cup, your opponent drinks the beer inside. The ball rolls on the floor, you put it in the cup. I had a dog, and you pick up the cup and it's filled with dog hair."

This way, "it's for the better."


Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at arosenberg@phillynews.com or at 609-823-0453.

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