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Charity Games Bask in Bawdy Irreverence

In a decades-old tradition, San Diego bares its naughty side in Over-the-Line contests.

July 21, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — This is a city that knows how to have fun.

Some of the local entertainment is highbrow (the Old Globe Theatre, the San Diego Symphony). Most is profoundly family-friendly (Sea World and the San Diego Zoo).

But for two weekends each year, the city is devoted to fun that is neither highbrow nor housebroken for family consumption: the beach bacchanal Over-the-Line, a beer-fueled nudity fest on city-owned Fiesta Island in Mission Bay.

For half a century, the Over-the-Line tournament, sponsored by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, has been drawing players and gawkers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 25, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
San Diego crash: An article in Friday's Section A about San Diego's Over-the-Line tournament gave the wrong flight number of a PSA aircraft that crashed in the city in 1978. The correct number is Flight 182, not 187.

Last Saturday's opening day crowd was estimated at about 20,000, with even bigger draws expected this weekend for the finals.

In theory, the raison d'etre of Over-the-Line is a competition among hundreds of teams playing a four-inning, three-person variant of softball. Played within narrow boundaries, the object is to hit a mushy ball past or over opposing players.

But saying Over-the-Line is about sports is like saying Mardi Gras is really about the devoutly religious preparing for the privations of Lent.

Occasionally, the San Diego news media, like those in most cities, are accused of refusing to tell the real story about this or that. With Over-the-Line, it's true. Little is seen or told as television stations have to worry about the Federal Communications Commission, and newspapers adhere to a voluntary code of censorship about sex and nudity.

The tournament starts with the selection of an Over-the-Line queen, named Miss Emerson. The name comes from a risque knock-knock joke, never fully explained in the media. Locals know the joke, outsiders don't count.

"Over-the-Line is a San Diego phenomenon," said former Councilman Bruce Henderson, who is married to a former Miss Emerson. "Over-the-Line is over the line."

By tradition, Over-the-Line teams attempt to out-gross one another with their names. Only two subjects are off-limits: John Wayne and the 1978 crash of PSA Flight 187 in San Diego. (Lots of Old Mission Beach Athletic Club members are pilots.)

The most common themes for Over-the-Line team names involve sex, in many permutations. Many names include more than one theme.

With hundreds of teams playing on 50 sandy courts, team names are continually boomed over a public-address system, all done deadpan. The dawn-to-dusk barrage of X-rated words sets the tone for the event.

There are multiple divisions for men's teams, each division described by a reference to whether a male can perform sexually or not. There is a division for women's teams. Some of the raunchiest names come from the women's teams.

The preferred garb is bikinis for women, gym shorts for men. But some devotees prefer costumes, irreverent ones, of course.

On Saturday, a retired firefighter calling himself "the Pope of OTL the First" and wearing religious garb, strolled among the crowd bestowing blessings. He was accompanied by two cardinals and two nuns; the nuns, of course, had four-letter words on their habits.

So if Over-the-Line is so outrageous, how has it come to be endorsed by San Diego City Hall? This, after all, is a city now in its 17th year of litigation to save a 43-foot-high cross on city-owned property atop Mt. Soledad.

The first answer lies in San Diego's reverence for tradition. This is the tournament's 53rd year. Although its sexual politics may be retrograde, Over-the-Line enjoys a kind of exemption from current mores.

The second answer is charity. For all their rowdy personas, the members of the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club are devoted not just to partying and sports but also to good works: presents for underprivileged children at Christmas, painting run-down community centers, sports contests for the disabled.

Founded in 1954, the club sponsors surfing championships, a half-marathon, youth sports teams and what it calls the world's largest beach party each year at Mariner's Point. Its rugby team is a national power. Over-the-Line is the group's biggest fundraising event.

Club members include lawyers, police officers, firefighters, architects, business executives, teachers and even a few doctors; many members are former military personnel. The club is known as "om-back," for its acronym OMBAC.

In proclaiming the two weekends as official Over-the-Line World Championship days, Mayor Jerry Sanders noted the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club's support of a horseshoe tournament for UC San Diego Children's Cancer Center. The mayor's proclamation is at the front of a souvenir program. The team names are in the middle, and most, although not all, of the pictures of bare-breasted women from previous tournaments are in the back pages.

For men not engaged in playing the games, a major preoccupation is encouraging women to remove their bikini tops. Some men offer bead necklaces, much like at Mardi Gras, as incentive. Some men just beg. There are a lot of cameras.

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