A Socially Distanced Dainty Contest For The Record Books
It was supposed to be a big to-do, even bigger than usual.
The World Championship Dainty Contest has become a celebrated annual tradition in Louisville’s Schnitzelburg neighborhood, and the plan had been to mark its half-century milestone with live music, after parties and a bigger festival with lots of bologna sandwiches — it’s a Dainty thing.
But that has been put on hold because of COVID-19, and this year’s Dainty was “pretty bare bones,” according to organizer Jennifer Chappell.
“We don't have any vendors, so that means no food, no drinks,” Chappell, a board member for the Schnitzelburg Area Community Council (SACC), said. “We're asking people to wear masks and you come in, you play and then you leave. So not a lot of gathering to be done here.”
That last part was the most audibly noticeable difference this year, as no gathering meant no spectators, and players competed in an empty parking lot at the Germantown Baseball Park instead of in a crowded narrow street.
Chappell said they did their best to create community around the socially distanced event, including a live stream with commentary and partnering with Louisville restaurants to “reimagine” the classic Dainty meal, “two pieces of white bread with a single piece of bologna, a bag of plain chips and a dill pickle.”
Despite the modifications this year, and some heavy rain and wind at the beginning of the event, Monday night’s championships still appeared to be plenty of fun for those who nabbed one of 50 spots to compete for the trophy and a six-pack of locally brewed Pilsner.
“I'm so glad they kept this going,” Bill Ridge, the 1999 Dainty champ, said. “I know it's a different setup here because of what we're going through, but it's one of the best events in the city.”
This was Ridge’s 21st Dainty contest. The 68-year-old said he looks forward to the last Monday in July every year, when the competition is held, and that he begins preparing for it around Derby time.
“I've got my own style,” Ridge said. “You've got to try to figure out your best way to get that dainty up in the air and down the way a few feet, so it's difficult and a little luck involved.”
Dainty is a street game, said to be invented by German immigrants in the 1800s. It’s played with a whittled down broomstick, used to flip a peg — known as the “dainty” — off the ground and then hit it, like you would with a baseball bat. Whomever hits it the farthest wins. Contestants must be 45 years or older.
Two men are credited with making it a Louisville tradition in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood starting in the early 70s: George Hauck and Charlie Vettiner.
Rev. Mary Virginia Brooks, a resident of Schnitzelburg for 12 years and a member of SACC, led the evening prayer. She said it was important to carry on the tradition this year, in spite of the virus, especially because it was the 50th and coincides with Hauck having turned 100 earlier this year.
“We decided that... whatever we could create would be good enough,” she said.
Brooks said the setting and vibe are different, but the energy is “good because we are so committed to making this happen and to have a good time while doing it.”
David Bramblette, 53, earned the title of the 2020 Dainty Champion. During the intermission, he told WFPL that, at 153 feet, he had beaten his personal best.
“You're a little more relaxed because there's not a crowd here, so it's a different feel,” he said, adding that he did miss hearing his daughter cheer for him from the crowd.
Bramblette got the top spot, though only after a tiebreaker contest with player Keith Richard.
Jennifer Chappell said that was a first for the annual event.
She said it was disappointing to not get to hold the festivities they had initially planned for the 50th, but they intend to go all out in 2021.
“We've kind of been teasing that next year is the 50th and a half Dainty or maybe this year is the 49th and a half, but however it is, we do plan on celebrating really big next year,” Chappell said.