Ask most ultimate players about their tournament bucket lists, and you’ll hear about Lei Out, High Tide, Wildwood, and Potlatch. But one lesser-known tournament in small-town Ohio has been slowly growing in fame: Poultry Days. It’s lack of proximity to traditional tourist destinations on the east or west coast may be hurting its chances as a tournament destination. But while Poultry Days may lack the costumery of Potlatch or the wildness of Wildwood, it makes up for it with an overabundance of as many American-as-apple-pie type events can possibly be fit into one weekend.
Poultry Days is a place to find the ultimate community at its finest and to participate in the small town USA experience (international players, take note!). At what other tournament can you find a fair with rides, chicken BBQ, a kiddie tractor pull, camping in the park, swimming at the community pool, a Miss Chick pageant, an all star game (where Miss Chick makes an annual appearance), and an egg eating contest all in one place? Between the town and the tournament, all of this activity is packed into two fun filled days and nights. With all of the options, and too many things to possibly see and do in the time allotted, every Poultry Days you attend is a different experience. Do you want to go to the pool this year or measure the speed of your hammer at the radar gun booth? Do you want to watch the kiddie tractor pull or get in more games of cups before it gets dark?
Poultry Days occurs every year on the second weekend of June in Versailles, Ohio (with the “ll” of “Versailles” being pronounced phonetically, not the French way). The tournament takes place in conjunction with the town’s Poultry Days Festival, hence the name of the tournament.
To learn more about the Poultry Days, I asked tournament director Roger Oakes a few questions:
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Poultry Days? When did it begin and why? What kind of changes have taken place over the years?
The Tournament started in 1982 with just 2 teams, the local Blue Meanies and the Dayton Diamond Dogs. From stories I’ve heard, the local players in Versailles had been playing for a few years and decided to invite the Dayton team up for the festival to play at the old park in town. It was such a great time, they invited some more teams the following year…and pretty soon, it became such a great mix of players and small town Americana that players started
adding Poultry Days to the Bucket List of Tournaments to attend. I think the success of Poultry Days can be pinpointed to the love of ultimate that the original tournament directors possessed. The number one goal, despite any costs, was to provide the best tournament possible for the players invited.
The biggest change is the size of the tournament. It really is a festival of ultimate, coinciding with Versailles Poultry Days Festival. There have been small changes throughout…at first, Miss Chick was a reluctant participant, now it is one of the highlights of her pageant. The fields have moved a couple times as the schools in Versailles have adjusted. And, of course, the major change was the shift to the fundraising aspect of the tournament starting in the 80s and 90s.
How did you get involved in running Poultry Days? About how many volunteers does it take to make things go smoothly every year?
I had been playing ultimate for about 5 years, when I got fixated on the idea purchasing land to create ultimate fields. Being from Ohio, I had played out in Versailles many times. I met Dale Wilker, one of the original TDs, and we started talking. We share a common love for the sport, a love that I’m sure many people have. But, as the community grows, there are lots of differing opinions on the best way for ultimate to progress. Often times, when Dale and I are discussing our visions, it feels like we are perfectly in step. I think that level of comfort allowed Dale to feel comfortable with me taking over such an important piece of our Ultimate community. He and I had worked together on several tournaments, including the College Championships, so he felt comfortable with our abilities, and our goals for ultimate.
The bulk of the logistics is taken care of months in advance. Ordering the merchandise, renting the gators and golf carts, etc. Most of that is taken care of by just a couple people. When we try to add on new parts to the tournament, we try to let just one person run with the idea and see where they can go. This year, for instance, we were able to add a food truck to the driving range fields and some hot biscuits and gravy for breakfast. We haven’t finalized the recycling yet, but I’m hoping if we can’t get it this year, we’ll be able to have something for next year’s tournament. Once we get to tourney week, it takes a number of volunteers. We have a crew in Versailles that lines the fields…that’s about 20 guys to get the 25 or 26 fields lined. There’s another 5-10 people that help with all the setup…putting up caution tape, parking cones, and barricades, along with setting up the merchandise. Once play begins, we’ve got about 15 people working all the grounds to sell, refill water, and pick up trash throughout the day. The Wilker Family runs the breakfast each morning, and there are more of them than I can count. All the breakfast proceeds go to some local charities that the Wilkers support. The being said, Dale’s daughter, Madison Wilker, has been instrumental in keeping things running. I don’t know how things could run without her help, and her friends’ and cousins’. In a few years, I’d be happy to have her as the lead TD…although she might get recruited onto a team instead. All told, there are probably about 50 people that help out with some aspect of the tournament. And, it helps so much to have as many people stay to clean up as possible. Versailles has great pride in Heritage Park, and we have to make it immaculate before we leave town.
How does the town of Versailles feel about the ultimate tournament and the players camping at Heritage Park?
The town, and festival, has grown up with the ultimate players. As a whole, the town is very supportive. So long as we respect the town, and the park, everyone is pretty happy to have us. A trust was built up over 30 years, so, as new tournament directors, we’re still establishing our relationship with the town. The best thing we can do, as players, is to be respectful of the community. It goes a long way if we can introduce ourselves to the people in town. Just sitting down next to the folks at the food tent and having a conversation can go a long way. Ask them about the school, and community, and I’m sure you’ll get as many stories as you have time to hear.
Tell us a bit about the egg eating contest? Where does it get its name? What was the inspiration for starting the egg eating contest?
The egg eating contest was added to Poultry Days in order to help raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of former teammates. The driving force was the spirit of Jeff Warrick. From all accounts, Jeff was the type of person that made friends with everyone and always brought out a smile to everyone’s face. In his honor, Poultry Days started giving back to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society around the late 80s. Graham Smith from Michigan had an idea to help the cause, and has been the leader of the egg eating contest ever since. It started as a Friday night affair, something for the early arrivals to get in on before the games started. Graham, and his lovely assistants, would go through the park garnering support for the event, and raising money to give to the LLS. Along with the contest, we have raffle prizes to given away…top prizes include Patagonia Black Hole Bags stuffed with SWAG.
It is called the Cool Hand Luke Egg Eating Contest based off of the classic movie, although I don’t know if anyone has put down 50 eggs at one sitting in Versailles.
What do you think makes Poultry Days different than other tournaments? What is your favorite part of the weekend?
The tourney is, and always will be, about spirit and community. There are a few tournaments out there that have a similar feel. But, the marriage of the town festival and the community of campers on site really make Poultry Days Special. We try to gear everything for the experience of the players–merchandise costs low, free camping, ease of chicken dinner tickets. We are just continuing on the tradition that was started by the previous directors. It is based on the pure love of ultimate…remembering the first time you played, and sharing all the stories that keep our community so tight knit. There is no community like the Ultimate community. It is a tourney meant to bring people together. My favorite part of the weekend is the pure joy of watching ultimate being played by friends that want to spend a weekend enjoying each other’s company. There’s nothing better than sitting in the tent, or driving by a field to fill a water tank, and watching two players make a bid for a disc, help each other up, and one congratulate the other for a great play. Its Ultimate, and there’s nothing better. We want to provide that opportunity for as many people as we can.
Author’s note: This year I will be participating in the Cool Hand Luke Egg Eating Contest! If you can spare $10 to support me and the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, please clink on the Donate button on this page. Thanks!
Feature Image Courtesy of Lesa Nelson (Ultiphotos.com)