Bar Leagues in Milwaukee
More than just sports
From a bar or tavern’s perspective, the advantage of hosting a bar league is threefold, according to Ryan Wickens, founder of the popular Quizmaster Trivia and Bradford Beach Soccer League. In many cases, employees of the bar play on the bar’s team, which provides motivation and improves morale in the work environment. Also, players wear the bar’s jersey or T-shirt, which promotes the business. Thirdly, and most importantly, in exchange for paying a team’s registration fee to play, the bar can expect the team, as well as friends and family members who attend the game as spectators, to return to the bar for drinks.
From a player’s perspective, the advantage of playing on a bar league team is that, as mentioned, the bar will cover the cost to play, which usually runs $200 or so.
“Plus, bar leagues tend to involve a lot of drinking,” Wickens adds. “So it’s a lot more fun because people don’t take it as seriously.”
Milwaukee’s bar league culture wouldn’t be nearly as strong and prolific as it is today without the assistance of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Department of Recreation & Community Services. The organization was the first of its kind in 1911, when pioneering state legislation assigned the local public school system the responsibility of conducting recreation programs. According to associate supervisor Katie Seitz, bars sponsor approximately 85% of Milwaukee Rec leagues. All of the department’s basketball and volleyball leagues use MPS courts, and the softball, kickball and football leagues play on fields owned and operated by the school district.
A bar league is a group of amateur athletes who are sponsored by a particular bar or tavern to compete against each other, either as a team or as individuals, in a specific sport. While there are a number of ways to organize a bar league, a round-robin schedule is the most common form of league structure. The goal is for each team to play a relatively balanced schedule against other teams in the league, with the results of the individual games being used to name an overall champion. Many local bar leagues also use playoffs, where teams advance after competing in a regular session of league format.
Sports such as volleyball, softball, bowling, basketball, soccer, football and hockey make up the majority of sports played in Milwaukee bar leagues. They require a certain amount of athleticism to be enjoyed, and after a good game a beer from the sponsoring bar is a near-necessity. Games typically played in Europe, like hurling and rugby, have garnered an intense following in Milwaukee, and are eagerly supported by establishments known for pouring a right pint, like the Irish Pub, Judge’s Irish Pub, County Clare, Trinity Three Irish Pubs, McBob's Pub & Grill, the Milwaukee Ale House and Packy's Pub.
For those who missed out on elementary school rites of passage like a speeding rubber ball to the face, there are a number of local bars and taverns that sponsor the sports of our childhood, including dodgeball and kickball. The Midwestern Unconventional Sports Association (MUSA) formed during the fall of 2000 in Milwaukee “with the goal of bringing together people in sports which really can not be taken too seriously.” With the help of sponsors such as O’Brien’s Pub, Fifth Ward Pub & Grill, Judge’s Irish Pub, Matty's Bar & Grille and Colonel Hart’s, the organization was able to grow from six teams to more than 300 teams with 4,000-plus participants in six cities and two states.
No Need to Break a Sweat
There also are a number of bar leagues in Milwaukee that require little, if any, physicality on the player’s part. Wickens currently hosts his Quizmaster pub quiz at 13 area establishments. Members of the live-hosted trivia league meet weekly at the same bar and compete in teams against others. Each quiz, which lasts about two hours, is made up of 30 questions that are split into six rounds and total 45 points. The rounds include history and politics, geography, music, film and television, sports and leisure, and a bonus round that varies each week. Team scores over a predetermined number of weeks (usually 6-8 weeks) are accumulated and the team with the highest cumulative score at the end of that period is crowned league champion and wins a prize.
Another popular local bar league activity that doesn’t induce an elevated heart rate is fantasy sports, a game where participants act as owners to build a team that competes against other fantasy owners based on the statistics generated by the real individual players or teams of a professional sport.
Skill and strategy, not strength and speed, are central to popular bar league sports such as billiards, darts, horseshoes and beanbags (also known as corn-holing). Tavern owners love hosting these kinds of leagues—they don’t require a lot of upkeep, and they can be played with a beer in hand.
Straight-Up Drinking Games
Along with flip cup, beer pong has officially evolved from college rite of passage to an organized league sport with Milwaukee’s own College House Beer Pong League. Teams generally consist of two players who stand at opposite ends of a ping-pong table. On each side of the table, teams assemble three triangles made up of six cups, each filled one-third full with beer. The idea is to land your team’s ball into all of the other team’s cups before they do the same to yours. When one team lands a ball, the other team has to drink the cup of beer.
Whether it involves drinking, sports, brain or brawn, name your game and you’re likely to find a growing number of like-minded friends in Milwaukee’s bar league circuit.