Ippon: The Dark Horse at the Corporate Games

(co-written by Nicholas Peterson)

The Richmond Corporate Games kicked off last weekend in an effort to create some friendly competition as well as to support a great cause. For over 30 years, the games have helped to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Virginia; last year alone, they raised over $25,000. 15 companies attended this year with teams ranging from 14-20 employees to compete in events such as canoeing, volleyball, relay races, and various obstacle courses. Companies were split into two leagues, A and B, based on company size as well as past performances in the Corporate Games. Ippon USA emerged as a true underdog in the B league, now often compared to the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. Compared to many other companies in the games we were undersized and frankly lacked any sort of event preparation whatsoever. We knew however, that our desire to win and pure athletic ability would carry us. Fueled by nothing but cheap light beer, pizza, and motivational pre event rally speeches given by Jamie, we began.

IMG_1369The first event was the canoe race, the evening before the main game day. The course looked so simple – just paddle to the other side of the lake, weaving between two buoys on the way, and then the other boat from your team would paddle back. It turns out experience in steering canoes during casual paddles doesn’t translate as well as one might think to simultaneously steer and paddle for speed while your partner is paddling as hard as they can as well.

The race began and we cleared the first buoy with little difficulty, as we had been able to aim at it before the race began. But then we started to veer off course a little, and upon attempting to correct for that, I (Ford) ended up putting us about 15 feet to the side of the second buoy as well as almost ramming a competitor. We finally got straightened out and managed to pick up a lot of speed before getting to the bank that marked the end of our leg of the race. Enough speed, in fact, that we rode up halfway on the bank, destabilized the canoe, and fell in the water. Every year there’s one group who falls in.

Despite our mishaps, Ippon ended up placing 3rd in the canoeing event. A top three finish in our first ever corporate games event and the ensuing celebration gave us hope for the day to come.

Volleyball began at 9:00am SHARP. We only had half a volleyball team to work with because people were either running a few minutes late or had babysitter issues, but they let us play nonetheless. This was by far the worst event of the day for us. We tied for last but technically it was a single elimination tournament so any team that lost their first match came in “last”. Fortunately, the rest of the events went much better for us after this.

After our uninspiring performance in volleyball, the next event, which ended up being the first event for mostly everyone, was the obstacle course. It was an interesting set up: two team members had to each get 2 points on a cornhole board, which would start off the first of the other 8 runners. The course involved dribbling a soccer ball around some cones, leaping a hay bale, stepping through some tires, and slaloming through some gates. The tires claimed many victims.

We got off to a good start as Sarah and TJ both got two beanbags on the board on their first try, and we carried that lead all the way to the end for our first first place finish! Although we were unaware of that at the time, as we were only told the “top three teams in no particular order”. High off our good performance, we were pumped for the next, more running-based event.

IMG_6078 The 500m relay was like other relay races I’ve seen and participated in, in that it involved a baton and each person running part of a longer distance for a faster time. But the similarity ended there. Instead of a distance being broken up into 4 parts, as is traditionally seen in track & field, the 500m was split between each team’s 10 members. Upon receiving the baton, you needed to sprint all-out across the 50 meter field, and upon nearing the end, attempt to balance your speed with your desire to get a serviceable handoff of the baton to your teammate, who would be running in the opposite direction.

Our handoffs and sprints were good, and we clutched out a third place finish, less than one second behind the second- and first-place teams. It turns out we were wise to be very careful to not cross the line before being handed the baton, even if it cost us a bit of time, as the five-second penalty for doing so was a killer. It cost a team that would have handily had first place to finish fifth instead. Rough.

The strangest game we played over the course of the day had to be Blind Spot. Each team had two sets of four members plus one caller, one on each side of the field. The people currently competing had to wear blindfolds, run across the field and find two tennis balls. Only then could they remove their blindfold and drop the balls in the collection bucket to set off their teammate. Each caller had the difficult task of guiding the blind people to the tennis balls as quickly as possible and explaining that THE BALL IS RIGHT BELOW YOUR LEFT HAND! NO, YOUR OTHER LEFT! It was a fun time, but it turned out that Blind Spot was not our team’s cup of tea – we placed 5th despite our best efforts.

In the middle of the event, there was a “Giant Beer Pong” tournament sponsored by Silver Diner. It didn’t count for points like the rest of the events, but the winning company got a free lunch. Imagine beer pong but take away red cups and replace them with red trash cans and take away pong balls and replace them with volleyballs. I (Nick) was carefully chosen to lead us to victory in this event. When I say carefully chosen I mean that I just really wanted to do it and no one stopped me. I scoped out my competition and it didn’t look too fierce so I went into this event feeling very confident. I walked up, shook hands with my competitor, and we began. Although everyone’s shooting originally looked subpar, when I was one can from victory, my opponent began making shots like he’d been training for this his entire life. I lost but was able to leave with my dignity since it was a close game.

IMG_5880Thread the Noodle was the event we heard the most about before the games started. It involves a team of ten people holding two ends of a pool noodle and moving a hula hoop from one end, to the other, and back. Our coach and teammate Jamie came from ICF, a team famed for their noodle threading performance. He had lots to say about the proper way to approach the game. We had a strategy described to us but no way to practice – the other teams sought a competitive advantage by hoarding their noodles and hula hoops.

Fortunately, we were not in the first heat and were able to see an example of the strategy several times before we went – turns out everyone else knows it too. But when it was our turn, we flew through, so fast that the announcer kept talking about how well these newcomers from Ippon were doing, do they play this in their free time? Well, we don’t. But next year we will. We ended up taking first by the slimmest of margins, just 0.04 seconds. However, we were a full ten seconds behind the winner of the A league for the event, ICF: Olson. But we’ll come back next year a Threat to the Noodle.

The Zany Relay was up next, another race with even more ridiculous pieces than the obstacle course. The race kicked off with four rotations around a dizzy bat followed by a 25m sprint. That kicked off the next team mate, who had to crab walk back 25m with a soccer ball on their stomach. If they dropped it, they couldn’t move until they put it back. Next, two more people had to make an ARM chair (ha) for the crab-walker and carry them down to the other side. Then it was someone’s turn to put on a huge pair of overalls and run back to the middle again, whereupon the next person would put on a pair of scuba flippers and run another 25m. The next two teammates, a guy and a girl, had to hop 25m each in a potato sack, where they would finally tag the last two people, who had to run 50m with a hula hoop connecting their necks.
It was a wild time, and we were in the first heat, with no examples to watch. We were asking the official for clarifications up to about 10 seconds before the race began. But apparently our confusion turned out not to be much of an impediment – we ended up winning the event! Next year we’ll know what’s coming, and each specialist will be a master of his or her part of the race.
The final event of the day was also the most exhausting: Tug-o-war. It used up all the energy you might have left from a long, hot day of games and left you weakened, out of breath, and with painfully cramped hands. This being our first year, our team didn’t yet understand the importance of cleats to success. We saw that all the serious teams had them, but we vowed to go out there and give it our all.

We won our first round against RTS solutions pretty handily, all pulling as a team to defeat our similarly uncleated foe. But our following round, against the well-cleated Keiter, dragged on much longer. Right from the first pull it was apparent this was going to be a much more difficult game. We fought our hardest, but bit by bit we could feel our feet sliding as we began to lose ground. We fought to the last moments of the round, but eventually the whistle blew and we were out. A tie for third place in our final event boded well for our final placing.

IMG_6104After a short door prize giving, during which Ippon won a company Fitbit (perhaps we should have divvied up the tickets), it was finally time to hear the results. Markel won the prized Piggy Bank trophy, for raising the most money to support the Special Olympics, as well as the congeniality award. RTS Labs won the sportsmanship award. NewMarket won the A league by a large margin after winning numerous events throughout the day; they will certainly be the team to beat next year.

In what is now being called the upset of the century, Ippon USA rose to the occasion and claimed victory in the B league. What are some words and phrases often used to describe Ippon? Boutique? Big Data Specialists? Programming experts? Innovation? Outside the box thinkers? IT consulting at its absolute finest? Add pinnacles of athleticism and a force to be reckoned with to that list. What will the forecast call for Ippon at next year’s Corporate Games? Partly cloudy, temperatures in the mid to high 80’s, and a 100% chance of WINNING.


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I’m a full-stack developer with a job I’m excited to wake up for every day at Ippon USA and a passion for staying active, video games, and coding.
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