Sick Tricks, Kicks, and the Footbag Family


Above: Taking a break during warm ups, footbagger Larry Workman, left, of North Bend, Oregon, compliments Taishi Ishida of Japan on his routine earlier in the week at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland, Oregon last week. Workman's daughter has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently facing serious complications.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood 
https://www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

“It's like You Tube, only he's here!” exclaimed the announcer when he introduced Nick ‘Mr. Spaghetti’ Landes, who demonstrated sick tricks and kicks at the 38th Annual World Footbag Championships held in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center last week.


If you didn’t know there was such a thing, you’re not alone, but maybe you’ve gathered in a circle with a group of friends on your college campus or at a local park, kicking a little beanbag around, trying to keep it up in the air as long as possible without using your hands. Maybe you even thought you were pretty good at it.

Above: A group of friends play Hacky Sack at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the 1980s. Photo by Janine Thome (Gates)/Little Hollywood Photography

While there has been footbag use documented since ancient times, the little bag as we know it today was created in Oregon City, Oregon by two friends, Mike Marshall and John Stalberger, in 1972.

Marshall was kicking around a homemade beanbag while Stalberger was recovering from knee surgery. Stalberger wanted a fun way to exercise his knee. They improved their little bag, and…the rest is history. 

The name, patented and marketed under the brand Hacky Sack, came from their original term for the game, “Hack-the-Sack.” Stalberger says they used to say, Let's go hack-the-sack, when they wanted to play.

When Marshall died three years later of a heart attack at the age of 28, Stalberger started The National Hacky Sack Association and began organizing workshops to teach footbag in schools.

Stalberger later sold the rights for the Hacky Sack footbag and now, millions play the sport around the world.

There’s a World-Wide Footbag Foundation, an International Footbag Players’ Association (IFPA), and even a Footbag Hall of Fame Historical Society.

Now a Vancouver, Washington based consultant and coach for small companies and real estate agent, Stalberger stays involved with the sport and continues to honor his friend each year by awarding a deserving person the Mike Marshall Footbag trophy. 

This year, the trophy went to World Footbag Championship event director Ethan “Red” Husted.

Above: John Stalberger gives an honorary award every year at the World Championship tournament in memory of his friend Mike Marshall. 

Above: The Open Doubles Net Semi Finals at the World Footbag Championships in Portland on Saturday. In blue,Wiktor Debski of Poland and Luc Legeau of Canada play against Walt Houston and Ben Alston of Memphis Footworks from Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis Footworks won, making it to the finals for the first time.

The World Footbag Championships have been hosted by 12 different countries in the past 17 years, and was last held in Portland in 1997.

Last week, 135 athletes competed from several countries around the world in various events including routines for singles, doubles, women’s, freestyle, intermediate, and open categories.

The enthusiasm and camaraderie is infectious as the family friendly crowd responds to the athlete’s moves, choreographed to music. Judges score the performance based on artistic merit and technical skills. If the footbag gets dropped to the floor, the crowd is supportive and the routine continues.

Above: Pawel Nowak of Poland, center, won first place, with seven time world footbag champion Vasek Klouda of the Czech Republic, right, coming in second, and Taishi Ishida, left, coming in third for the Open Singles Routine at the 38th World Footbag Championships in Portland last week.

But all the fun and competition becomes secondary when life is kicking you in the gut.

Wearing an Oregon Ducks t-shirt, Larry Workman, of North Bend, Oregon, was taking a break from practicing his moves when he was randomly approached by Little Hollywood to answer a few questions about the sport.

Workman graciously introduced himself, and said he has been playing footbag for eight years, but did not perform well earlier in the week because his mind was elsewhere.

His 21 year old daughter, Mayleigh, has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and recently underwent a stem cell transplant. She is currently on a ventilator at a Portland area hospital in very serious condition. 

It has been a difficult journey.

The footbag championships coincided with his daughter's worsening condition, but provided Larry and his wife, Camille, brief respite. To help spread the word about blood cancers, the Workman's staffed an information table for Be the Match, a nonprofit marrow donor registry.

Be the Match targets healthy potential donors between the ages of 18-44, and they were successful in signing up four potential donors in Mayleigh’s honor.

Their feelings were raw, but they wanted to share their story with their footbag family.

A year ago, after experiencing symptoms she and her family didn’t understand for three months, Mayleigh was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She received a stem cell transplant 19 days ago, but is now facing serious complications.

The Workman's have learned a lot of medical jargon in a short amount of time, and have been writing a blog to provide updates on Mayleigh's condition and share their knowledge with family and friends.

“We really need her white counts to come in so her body can begin healing. Today they doubled her fillgrastim shots that stimulate the stem cells. She's been getting this since day 7 and so far her counts haven't budged. It was her first double dose so hopefully this will help to kick start those cells to go to work. They have also found a virus present that for most of us would not be an issue but because she's neutropenic, they will need to keep an eye on it closely.

“We had a huge support system in my mom and my footbag family but my mom had to return home and the footbaggers have all went their separate ways. We are beyond stressed and our minds keep wandering but mostly we want to get that call that her counts are coming in and for that we need a miracle,” the Workman's wrote on Monday.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. About 14,000 patients are in need of a transplant nationwide. Seventy percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family.

Stalberger is emotional about the footbag family.

“It’s all very humbling to me. It’s fantastic. Mike was a free spirited person, and we didn’t know where it would go all those years ago…. I didn’t know anything, and after he died, I didn’t know who to trust…. I’m glad to still be a part of it all. You know, the footbag community is about family.

“….As for Mayleigh, we’re just lifting the family up in prayer and sending them positive energy and love. That’s the one word to describe what this is all about: love.”

Above: Paloma Pujol Mayo of Spain performed a routine to a musical medley which included Jailrock Rock by Elvis Presley. She won first place in the women’s individual routine.

Editor's Note, August 16: Little Hollywood has been informed that Mayleigh passed away the afternoon of August 15. Please see the note in the comment section from her family.

For more information about Be the Match and to receive a swab kit in the mail, go to http://join.bethematch.org/Mayleigh

When you join the Be the Match registry, it means you are helping to save a life. You complete a confidential registration and consent form and perform a cheek swab. No blood is drawn. Your cheek swab is tested for your tissue type to determine if you are a possible match for a patient in need. If you are called as a potential match, you must be committed to donate to any patient in need, and ready to follow through with further requirements. Adding more members with diverse ethnic backgrounds to the registry increases the variety of tissue types available, helping more patients find the match they need.