Helga Ball Brings Out Viking Fierceness By Tossing Heads — Of Cabbage
The Vikings liked to play games as much as any of us, but they didn’t have a sporting goods store around the corner to buy equipment. We’re guessing that’s why they went to the garden to find the right gear for a game called Helga Ball.
Twelve to fifteen women face off against each other trying to score points with a cabbage.
Yes, your garden-variety cabbage is tossed around the field for this ancient pastime. You just heard modern-day player Denise Wolcott explaining the premise. The Show’s Annika Cline spoke with her about the game and how it came from the Vikings to the Valley.
Wolcott says to think of it as a combination of all the roughest contact sports we know of today. "Helga Ball is very much like rugby, and soccer and wrestling," she said.
You know, the tackling from rugby, the kicking from soccer, the double-leg takedown from wrestling.
"Imagine all three of those squeezed into one very dusty, dirty game. That’s exactly what it is," Wolcott said. And, "it’s for any woman that wants to play," she said.
That’s right — any women, but no men. They can participate in one way though …
"The only male participation in Helga Ball is the goal posts. It’s actually two men on each side," Wolcott said.
And it’s perfectly acceptable for teams to bribe the goal posts to conveniently move and prevent the other team from scoring.
Wolcott plays the game here each year. It’s an event called the Estrella War, an annual gathering held by the Arizona Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s kind of like a renaissance festival, except most of the people dress up and play a role, immersing themselves in everyday medieval life, the fun parts, anyway.
The main event is a big battle, replete with wooden swords and shields.
But in Helga Ball there is no armor - just aprons… which come in handy, because the only rule here is - no hands on the cabbage.
"You have to carry it in your shirt, in your dress, in your apron," Wolcott said.
Or kick it, but it won’t have the momentum of a soccer ball.
"During play the cabbage gets broken. You take the bigger of the two pieces and that now becomes your ball, until you’re literally down to like coleslaw on the ground," Wolcott said.
Then it’s time for a new cabbage in play. Other than that, it’s up to the players how they get the cabbage through the goal.
"There was one incident where I picked up an opposing player who happened to be very small, and I carried her on my shoulder through the goalpost because she had the cabbage in her hand and I wanted to score so I just picked her and the cabbage up and threw them through the goal post," Wolcott said.
Now, it’s hard to know if this is exactly how the vikings played, but they’ve pieced it together enough to bring back to life a part of Norse culture that let women be the winners.
"That’s what appeals to me, is we can get out there and we can grunt and roll around and get dirty and throw each other on the ground, and at the end of it share a beer," Wolcott said.
Which is one pastime that definitely hasn’t been lost to history.