Greased pole climbing competition is highlight of St. Rocco Festival

(Plain Press, October 2006) In the 2006 Labor Day greased pole competition at the St. Rocco Festival the grease won the competition. None of the fifteen teams competing made it to the top of the greased pole.

Each Labor Day at the St. Rocco Festival teams of five compete to be the first to climb to the top of a greased pole in the annual greased pole climbing competition. Competitors try to climb a greased pole the size of a telephone pole that sits in the parking lot of St. Rocco’s Church at 3205 Fulton Road.

In the first round of the competition, teams use four members. After the first round teams are allowed five members. To reach the top of the pole, team members stand on each other’s shoulders to get as high as they can on the pole. The most common strategy is for the top two members of the team to begin a climb to the top – with one climber holding on to the greasy pole while the other climbs over the team member’s back. Eventually one climber makes the final climb to try to touch the bar on the top of the pole.

Competitors use various strategies to give them an edge. The person on the bottom must be strong enough to bear the weight of the entire team. Those on the top must be courageous, agile and strong enough to climb over the back of a teammate while high above the ground. Some teams change clothes between rounds. In the past competitors have sworn by different fabrics such as burlap. Climbers, especially in the first round, throw grease down on the crowd below – making it easier for those that follow them and for climbers in the next round. This year, since no team made it to the top of the pole, the prize money will be doubled next year.

Competitors also have strategies for cleaning off the grease. David Shull, a 25 year veteran of the competition, having led a team that won the competition six year in a row  from 1989 to 1995, uses baby oil to take off the grease. Skull team’s six year winning streak ended in 1996 when the fabled team of Lenny Furio, Todd Baldwin, Ron Zambo, Brian Sperner and Rock Dog Revay won the competition. The next year, in 1997, that team would go down in greased pole climbing competition history as the only team at the festival ever to reach the top in the first round of the competition with only four guys climbing.

In 1999 the planners of the event decided to hold a women’s competition along with the men’s competition. At that time no women’s team showed up. This year a team of women, competed with the men. This was the first time this has happened in the history of the event.


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