NEW HAVEN — The tent was loud and crowded as Willem Berry and Ivor Anderson marched up to the stage for the first face-off in last Friday’s armwrestling tournament at Addison County Fair and Field Days. The match was over quickly — Berry quickly threw Anderson’s hand to the table — but it was only the first of many rounds to follow as more than 200 people vied for the coveted title of champion.
In each round, two wrestlers faced each other across a specially made table with adjustable height. There were three tables at this tournament — two painted an intimidating black, the third, smaller one painted neon pink. Each match was watched closely by a referee.
Karen Brisson, a former armwrestling world champion in charge of the tournament, hurried across the stage checking the brackets and giving out trophies. Brisson started the Field Days fixture 28 years ago with her father, Armand Brisson. She has been organizing it ever since.
“I do it because everyone loves it,” said Brisson.
Organizing the competition is no mean feat. This year the 16-and-under category drew around 120 participants, while the adult competition drew around 100. Many were returning to the competition for the second, third or 28th time.
One group, however, was very new to the sport. The bewildered competitors under age six listened intently to the instructions of the referee, and most of the matches were over within a couple seconds. But as the double-elimination bracket for the co-ed zero-to-five age group narrowed down to the top entrants, the crowd became louder and the smiles fell away from the faces of the children competing.
Ayana Adams, the diminutive little girl who emerged as champion of the first age group, went into each successive round with her brow furrowed in concentration.
Each new age group brought older competitors and more intense competition, and the audience in the tent became louder and louder. Parents cheered for the younger age groups, but as the older age groups began to compete their peers joined the crowd. On the floor in front of the table where the older boys were competing, a crowd of teenage girls sprang up to cheer.
Though competition was fierce at times, it remained friendly. Taylor Raiche, who competed in the girls’ 12-13 age group, was happy to concede the first place title to her twin sister, Morgan.
“It’s pretty cool,” Taylor said of Morgan’s victory. “Last year I got first and she got fourth, so I’m very proud of her now.”
Victory was unexpected for Neil Heir, a muscular 15-year-old from Hubbardton who took first place in the boys’ 14-15 age group. He had come to Field Days not expecting to participate in the tournament, and entered on a whim.
“It feels pretty darn good,” he said, holding up his trophy.
As the evening wore on, kids’ referee Ron Klemba of Connecticut sprinted from one table to the other, counseling the young armwrestlers and grinning widely.
“I got a call the other day and they asked me to ref this. Next thing you know, I’m here,” he said.
While he made sure the children’s event was running smoothly, Klemba was also preparing for the adult tournament, where he went on to win the right-handed and the left-handed events for his weight bracket.
Klemba began armwrestling nine years ago, when a back injury forced him to stop competing in other sports. Since then, he has won 23 national titles and converted his basement to “The Dungeon,” where he trains and coaches other armwrestlers. But he enjoys coming to the smaller, more informal competitions, like the one at Field Days.
“(At bigger competitions) you have other armwrestlers watching. Here you have fans,” he said. “It’s a lot of people with a lot of enthusiasm.”
The following were winners in the armwrestling competition held last Friday at Addison County Fair and Field Days:
• Under 143 pounds: 1. Benji Dwyer; 2. Nick Trudeau; 3. Mitchell Pickering.
• 144-154: 1. Benji Dwyer; 2. Rob Ketcham; 3. Lynn Sumner.
• 155-165: 1. Glen Tupper; 2. Kris Mikels; 3. Dale Turgeon.
• 166-176: 1. Ron Klemba; 2. Steve Shoemaker; 3. Ken McKinney.
• 177-187: 1. Ron Klemba; 2. George Sheldrick; 3. Brayton Gillett.
• 188-198: 1. George Sheldrick. 2. Rick Brunelle; 3. Anthony Sanville.
• 199-220: 1. Frank Hirst; 2. Adam Barup; 3. Dan Benoit.
• 221 plus: 1. Frank Hirst; 2. Bill Sinks; 3. Adam Barup.
• Under-143: 1. Jessalyn Gillett; 2. Renee King; 3. Crystal Eastman.
• 144 plus: 1. Jessalyn Gillett; 2. Theresa Howard; 3. Kristen Ketcham.
• Under-154: 1. Benji Dwyer; 2. Rob Ketcham; 3. Kris Mikels.
• 155-176: 1. Ron Klemba; 2. Socrates Fronhoffer; 3. Ken McKinney.
• 177-198: 1. George Sheldrick; 2. Ron Klemba; 3. Willy Smits.
• 199-220: 1. Adam Barup; 2. Frank Hirst; 3. Tony Niemo.
• 221 plus:1. Adam Barup; 2. Frank Hirst; 3. Tony Niemo.
OVERALL RIGHT HAND: Frank Hirst.
OVERALL LEFT HAND: Ron Klemba.
• 5-year-old-and-under boys and girls combined: 1. Ayana Adams; 2. Willem Berry; 3. Cierra Fleming.
• 6 and 7 boys and girls combined: 1. Brandon Shaw; 2. Trapper Sprague; 3. Drew Gill.
• 8 boys: 1. Nicky Niemo; 2. Dominic Fleming; 3. Josh Trautwein.
• 8-9 girls: 1. Kacee Hirst; 2. Raven Payne; 3. Kameryn Norse.
• 9 boys: 1. Jacob Gorton; 2. Tuff Roberts; 3. Brandon Plumadore.
• 10 boys: 1. Brendin Fleming; 2. Marty Niemo; 3. Garrett Tupper.
• 10-11 girls: 1. Jordan Hubbell; 2. Allison Sargent; 3. Anna Fronhofer.
• 11 boys: 1. Matt Mullin; 2. Jackie Gorton; 3. Jerry Niemo.
• 12 boys: 1. Jacob Trautwein; 2. Eric Huestis; 3. Cy Eastman.
• 12-13 girls: 1. Taylor Raiche; 2. Morgan Raiche; 3. Deanna Whalen.
• 13 boys: 1. Jordan Grant; 2. Austin Lafayette; 3. Ronnie Metcalf.
• 14-15 boys: 1. Neil Hier; 2. Geoffrey Grant; 3. Brendin Roberts.
• 14-15 girls: 1. Allison Lussier; 2. Jessi Waterman; 3. Katelyn Genova.
• 16 boys: 1. Michael Sabourin; 2. Travis Davis; 3. Kevin Lambert.
• 16 girls: 1. Arianna Connor; 2. Sheila Larrow.
The Armond Brisson Annual Awards to outstanding Field Days armwrestlers who also demonstrate a continued enthusiasm for the sport and good sportsmanship went to Glenn Tupper, male; Jessalyn Gillett, female; and Sheila Larrow, youth.
The tournament directors were Karen Brisson and Patrick Coyle; the scorekeepers were Martha Mott and Christina Bourgeois; and the referees were Badger Drewes, Ron Klemba, Benji Dwyer, Karen Brisson and Frank Hirst.