Teams at the May OTL tournament discuss a play.
Within the first 10 minutes of my arrival at the Over-The-Line tournament, a fat, hairy, middle-aged man wearing swim trunks and a holster crammed with six Budweiser’s, carrying a camera fitted with a zoom lens brazenly walked up to me and began snapping photos of my breasts.
“Nice rack,” he slurred as he moved the lens down to my crotch and the shutter clicked at least 20 times. Before I could protest he wandered off, distracted by another bikini-clad girl.
I was 18.
Candice Reed (foreground) and friend enjoy a cocktail at OTL in 1980.
That was back in 1978 and times have changed. Some players are now in their 80s, spectators are a little more civilized, and drinking-and-driving rules make people think twice before chugging down a pint of PBR through a beer bong funnel at OMBAC’s (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club) premier sporting event.
But make no mistake, it’s still an alcohol-fueled party held over two weekends on Mission Bay's Fiesta Island with thousands of half- naked people stumbling around, cameras snapping, and disgusting (but often funny) team names blaring over the loud speaker from morning until late afternoon. (The only topics off-limits are references to the 1978 PSA airliner crash over the city and anything derogatory about John Wayne.)
- Saturday, July 15, 2017, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
1500 Fiesta Island Road,
- Sunday, July 16, 2017, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
1500 Fiesta Island Road,
This year, in case you haven’t heard, things got a little dicey as far as adult beverages go, and that didn’t set well with OMBAC, the public, or the city of San Diego.
Since 1954, when OMBAC was born, the rules governing attendance at their games have been simple: no bottles, no babies, no bowsers (dogs.) Later, when OTL was conceived, a few more B's were added: no birds, no battles (fights,) no boas (snakes,) no bikes, no bad attitudes.
In May, a new ‘B’ rule was appended, and not by choice: No BYOB . Another new rule was that no one under 21 would be admitted — including players. (They didn’t have a ‘B’ for that one.)
“The City (of San Diego) didn’t want to do it,” said Jeff Johnson, an OMBAC board member. “In the history of the event the arrests have been minimal. But, another organization dragged the city into court, because they held a party and it got out of hand. When [that organization] wanted to hold another event and were told ‘no.’ So they sued and said basically, if they couldn’t have a party with BYOB, then no one could.”
The OMBAC website announced the changes only two months from the first day of the tournament, surprising the players and pretty much everyone, including the “other organization.”
No cans of Natty Light? No gin and tonics mixed in giant Starbucks sippy cups? No Jell-O shots lovingly created the night before? No Sneaky Pete punch concocted with four types of rum?
To say this put a damper on the event for many is an understatement.
The explanation on the OMBAC site continues. "The City of San Diego, afraid of being sued again, concluded a new written policy governing the issuance of permits was required. Unfortunately, OTL ended up on the wrong side of the new plan. Events such as the last 60 OTL’s are now banned.... Our choices were essentially two: Setup a bar with fences or cancel the tournament."
OMBAC members were mad. Judging by the comments on OMBAC’s Facebook page, fans of OTL were angry as well.
Hundreds of comments, mostly of the “Not cool!” and “That blows,” variety filled OMBAC’s page.
Remarks on Facebook also put the blame squarely on Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s shoulders, and Prop D which he spearheaded. But for the most part, people held FreePB.org — the "other organization"— responsible for the no BYOB rule.
Despite being portrayed as the Grinch who stole the booze, FreePB.org's website makes them sound like OMBAC's allies. “We believe there is no rational justification for the City to deny OMBAC a permit exactly as they have received in the past."
But FreePB.org decries what they see as the City "playing politics regarding permits. The outcome of Prop D was that the City went to a permit system if one wanted to enjoy a beer on the beach. Nowhere in that proposition did it say that BYOB events were impermissible, and we believe the City has distorted the will of the voters in this regard.
"Since 2008, when the City adopted a permit system to allow alcohol consumption at our parks and beaches, the City has been systematically preventing responsible individuals from obtaining permits. It's time for this practice to end! FreePB.org calls upon the City to implement a fair and equitable permit system that allows responsible individuals, private groups and public events to responsibly enjoy alcoholic beverages. This would ensure that events like OTL can continue, without significant changes to the format."
I emailed FreePb's attorney, Cory Biggs, for comment about the alcohol restrictions at OTL. He called OMBAC "...a bunch of privileged whiners who think the laws that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. It’s nice to see the city requiring everyone to play by the same rules... for a change. If they had done that from the start, there would have been no need for lawsuits seeking equal treatment for everyone.”
To get OMBAC's version first hand, I attened a tamer, smaller version in May of the main event that will kick off Saturday July 12. I found the OMBAC officials immediately. They looked like the OMBAC guys that wandered the beach back in the 1970s and 80s. Older guys in hats and either T-shirts or Hawaiian shirts and flip flops.
Jeff Johnson, John Teft, Sonny Petersen, and Mike Scheuch looked shell-shocked as they told me about the new rules and how they were scrambling to meet the requirements before the first pitch.
“It’s going to be very different this year that’s for sure,” said Jeff Johnson. “The entire player’s area will be fenced in, and no one under 21 will be allowed in.”
“We’re not sure about a lot of things, I mean we’ve never had to fence in 51 acres or hire the amount of security we now have to have," John Teft said. "Coming inside the fence will be like a Charger game, with security going through your coolers and bags, plus you have to have ID. The costs are going to go up for us, and those costs will be taking away money from our charities.”
OMBAC is a not-for-profit organization with 440 members. They give to more than 100 charities, according to their site, organizations such as Rady Children’s Hospital and the Surfrider Foundation.
“They (the city) were forced into it. They didn’t want this to come down,” Johnson said. “It was the litigious threats from FreePB.org, and the threat of being dragged into court once again that made them make the decision. We don’t blame them. We blameFreePB.org.”
“Just because we’re complying, doesn’t mean we’re happy about it,” added John Teft with a grimace on his face.
Regarding FreePB.org, Petersen said, “Basically these guys threw a party at Crown Point and didn’t provide extra security or bathrooms and they trashed the beach. We make sure everyone is having a good time but they are safe. We pick up trash, we pick up glass, we pull weeds and we’re on this island,” He pointed across the bay to Crown Point. “Look over there at those expensive homes. Do you think those people want a huge, out-of-control party in their front yard?”
Robert Rynearson, a spokesman for FreePB.org called me back. He wasn’t happy his group was taking the blame for OTL’s new no-BYOB rule from the media or on Facebook, and he was mad that the city wasn’t telling the whole truth.
“FreePB is taking the heat, but the real point to our group is fairness for everyone who wants a permit to hold an event with BYOB,” he said. “That and the election fraud of Prop D. The issue with OTL is just a sideshow.”
Rynearson alleges that there have been backroom deals between the city and OMBAC for years, giving them almost exclusive rights to hold a party with alcohol on the beaches of San Diego. He said that the city’s rejection of a permit for a beach event called the Leisure Olympics was denied five years running.
“The city could never articulate why OTL and a few other large organizations like the Thunderboats and Crew Classic could hold these events but we could not,” he said. “Prop D was a joke, but they allowed these big groups to go ahead and have their events which influenced the proposition election. Faulconer cut a deal.”
FreePB.org states on their site that they are a federal non-profit corporation. But upon checking their status on the Internal Revenue Service website, I found that the federal tax exemption of their organization was automatically revoked in May of 2012 for failure to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years. There is no date listed for reinstating them.
I emailed Rynearson for clarification, but I did not receive an answer. So far the organization has raised more than $50,000 according to the IRS.
Back at the May OTL event, I took a walk and talked to some of the players. As I watched groups of men and women play the game, children ran around blowing bubbles. Coolers were plentiful, but I only spotted a few contraband brews hidden in beer koozies.
Trevor Shine and his two children, Sophia and Jake watch a smaller, less decadent OTL tournament in May at Fiesta Island.
It was a far cry from what was to come in July when more than 125,000 people (OMBAC’s estimates) will descend on the island expecting a full-blown bacchanal. “In my opinion we will roll with the changes,” said Trevor Shine of San Diego who was carrying his two-year-old son Jake and holding the hand of his 4-year-old daughter Sophia. “We will adjust and hopefully the fans will bear with us. Are they good changes? No. But this is a great organization and the fun can’t be stopped.”
Tess Franklin of Chula Vista took a break from playing to speak with me. She has been playing the game for 32 years and won the women’s open four times. Her husband is also a veteran player, and her son Tanner has been playing at the junior level since he was 15.
“I understand the city’s position on this. We’ve always had police presence here, and things have never gotten out of hand. I mean, the amount of arrests are probably lower than a Padre game, but since FreePB.org put up a stink, they had to do what they had to do.”
Tanner Franklin is now 20 years old and a top player. But, “I can’t play in the [July] tournament, and I can’t even come to watch my parents play,” he said. “I was pretty upset at first, but there’s nothing I can do about it. FreePB got their way. OTL is part of my life. It’s definitely a bummer.”
Pitcher getting ready to toss the ball.
Luckily for Franklin, and for hard drinking OTL spectators, city officials gathered on Fiesta Island on July 2 to announce that the new alcohol rules had been canceled. Fans all over Facebook rejoiced over the ability to once again drink on the beach in San Diego — if you can call Fiesta Island a beach.
But, the question remains, is limiting the alcohol intake for more than 100,000 people during an event such a bad thing?
In 1985, I went to the event with some friends. We arrived mid-morning on the first Saturday, and we stepped over more than a few passed-out people before noon. The guys with cameras seemed more brazen than ever. I was shocked to see a man walk by a teenaged girl and rip off her bathing suit top. It happened more than once. Then, a cousin of someone in my group was shot in the foot. That was it for me. I went home and didn’t return until 2002 to watch my husband played on a team. I was a bit tamer than in 1985, but still plenty of booze, breasts, and camera creeps.
I told the OMBAC honchos about the shooting. Mike Scheuch remembered the incident.
“That didn’t happen at OTL,” he said. “It happened over there behind the berms where the RVs park. That’s not anything we can control.”
“So, he was shot over there, kind of like if he was in a bar and walked outside into the parking lot?” I asked.
“Yes, just like that.”
The objectifying of women and young girls seemed to be out of control as well, I told him. To get a free OTL t-shirt or a free cocktail all a woman had to do is bare her breasts. This tradition continues today.
Scheuch countered, “We’ve gotten older, and things have changed since those days. We all have wives and daughters, and we want women to feel safe coming here. There’s a different vibe now.”
Is there? There’s still a crowning of a Miss Emerson every year. OMBAC'S website states, "The Miss Emerson contest is a legitimate bikini contest and does not involve or tolerate any lewd or inappropriate behavior from contestants, staff, or tournament attendees.”
"Miss Emerson?" you ask? It’s an old knock-knock joke.
Emerson nice tits!”