OWATONNA — I had originally intended to visit Be Ultimate Sports at the Steele County Free Fair, but the prospect of my jumping around on a bouncy house-surface playing field or riding a tricycle on a track with tight turns might seem inappropriate on Senior Citizens Day for a guy my age.
After all, depending on one’s definition, I am a senior citizen — or at least I and my graying hair qualify for more senior discounts than I care to admit — and it could seem as if I were thumbing my nose at my fellow geriatrics.
I had nothing to worry about, something that I proved to myself and the crowd that gathered to watch me and point and laugh on Friday when I did show up at Be Ultimate Sports to participate in their games.
In case you haven’t found it yet, Be Ultimate Sports is located on the newly opened section of the fairgrounds that used to be taken up by the north end of the race track. And the group — they like to call themselves a “sporting event company” — takes up a huge chunk of real estate.
The Missouri-based company has been in business for five years and started out with “Bubble Soccer,” a game which is exactly what it sounds like: people playing soccer while dressed in big, inflatable bubbles. If you run into someone, chances are that either you or that other someone will be knocked to the ground. But not to worry. The bubble that has encased your body will allow you to bounce right up.
Steve Uhl, who manages Be Ultimate Sports, said that 2014, the year the company started, was a year in which Bubble Soccer was the rage. Once his college buddy, Luke Rogers, who owns the company, saw how popular and successful the Bubble Soccer was, he decided to expand into other games, which he brought to the fair.
There’s Bossaball, which Uhl describes as a cross between soccer and volleyball, played on a giant inflatable field that has two round trampolines embedded in them and played with giant balls — six feet in diameter — that have a gallon of water in them to prevent them from rolling away too drastically.
And no, I’m not making that up.
Uhl called it the “most popular thing at the fair” for Be Ultimate Sports — and you can imagine why. Even if you fall — and believe me I fell several times without breaking a hip, which, of course, is the scourge of old farts like me.
“We’re very, very, very careful with safety,” Uhl told me, and that appeared to be an accurate assessment.
The way the games are played at the Steele County Free Fair are not quite the same way they would be played at, say, a corporate event or a birthday party — some of the other types of events that Be Ultimate Sports does.
At those events, the people generally know each other, so it’s easy to form teams to play Bossaball or Bubble Soccer. At the fair, you could be admitted into the game with a perfect stranger rather than a teammate. So, for example, with Bubble Soccer they just instruct the participants to imagine they are human bumper cars, meaning they should try to “knock into one another.”
As for Bossaball, rather than learning all the new rules and trying to play a game — again, something you could do at an event or a party — at the fair, the participants are let loose on the inflated surface and told to treat it like a giant bounce house. And you do bounce.
At least I did, something that this 60-plus-year-old body is not accustomed to doing. Still, I came off the inflatable field unbruised with my pride still intact.
Then there were the tricycles — and yes, I rode a tricycle. But this was no ordinary trike. This was one that sat so close to the ground that had I not lost so much weight recently, I would be certain that one or both of my butt cheeks would have lapped over the sides of the seat and drug in the dirt.
You may pause here to try to erase that image from your mind’s eye.
The tricycles also have special back wheels that if you get up enough speed and turn on one of the many sharp corners, the back end of the trike will drift — sort of like driving on ice or snow on a cold January day in Minnesota.
Steve Uhl from Be Ultimate Sports raced me, though he clearly was being generous and letting me lead the first two laps. On the third and final lap, he let go and probably could’ve lapped me before I got to the first turn. But remember, he is younger and more experienced, while I’m older and haven’t ridden a trike since the Eisenhower Administration.
Be Ultimate Sports will be traveling to 16 states or so this summer, including North Dakota for the state fair there and as far south as Little Rock, Arkansas. They’ve even added a trip outside the middle of the country when they head to a fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
And how have things been at the Steele County Free Fair?
“Things have been good,” Uhl said.
Good indeed. Even for us old folks.