John Hilsen talks with Eric Franzen, a gentleman who knows Johnball as thoroughly as Gandalf knows timeless wisdom. Eric introduced the sport to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), where he currently acts as a captain and organizer of all things Johnball.
JH: So tell me, how long have you had Johnball in your life?
EF: I think I was born with it, but if my memory does not fail me I believe I had my first Johnball experience during my sophomore year of high school. That was about six years ago.
JH: What was your first impression of the game back then? Has it changed much since?
EF: I was a little shy back then but really was trying to branch out and meet people. I had class with a few of the people I knew had played Johnball before and you all seemed like a good crew so I gave it a try. I saw it as a competitive outlet back then, and not as much craziness as Johnball typically consists of now. I suppose that would be the difference- now it’s definitely “cool” to be crazy and have fun with the game instead of it being “cool” to win games.
JH: So what about Johnball makes it worth playing again and again? Why haven’t you devoted that much time in your life to a more traditional game like dodgeball or Mancala?
EF: I think it’s worth playing again and again because it has the ultimate balance of competitiveness and cooky-ness. Every game is a huge game of slightly-controlled chaos and it’s one of the few sports where letting emotion drive the game is not only accepted but highly encouraged.
JH: What is your general strategy or thought process when you’re playing a heated game of Johnball?
EF: I tend to be the kind of player that gets into the thick of the action whether it is good strategy to do so or not. If you asked famous musical artist Akon what my strategy was, he’d say that I’m a go-getta’.
JH: Who would you want to see star in a the first ever Hollywood Johnball-themed movie? It’s only a matter of time before we get the Johnball-equilvant of “Hoosiers” or “Angels In The Outfield.”
EF: Probably the little Asian kid from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Granted, he has probably grown up by now. But this could really resurrect his acting career.
JH: What gametypes are popular with you and your fellow Johnballers at UWEC?
JH: And what gametype do you feel doesn’t get enough lovin’?
EF: I personally really enjoy Fashion Wars. The game instantly has craziness that you may not get from other games- it’s really more about being crazy than competitive. Plus I get to take my shirt off.
JH: What’s stopping you from taking off your shirt during any other time? Shirtlessness and Johnball go together like time machines and Marty McFly.
EF: Oh, nothing at all. But at least this gives my shirt removal purpose instead of just simply airing out my chest hairs.
JH: Last summer at Nationals, you said “Honesty is the cheese of the cheese sandwich we call Johnball.” It’s one of my all time favorite Johnball quotes. What other wholesome ingredients do you think are integral to the game of Johnball?
EF: Well hey, glad you asked. Now this may vary from sandwich to sandwich but I’ll try to be vague enough that these ingredients can be applied to any Johnball sandwich anywhere:
Sportsmanship: condiments. The sandwich will be a LOT better when condiments are added, just like how Johnball is a LOT better with sportsmanship. Take away the condiments and you’ll have a lot of angry people.
Documentation: crust of the bread. Not everyone eats the crust all of the time, just like documentation doesn’t take part in every single Johnball game ever played. When you picture a sandwich however, you picture the crust just like how we can picture how Johnball is played with pictures and videos.
Friendship: inner part of the bread. Without this part of the bread, the whole sandwich will fall apart. Without friendship, who would really enjoy the game of Johnball?
JH: I sure wouldn’t. Johnball would be awful without the friendship.
EF: Indubitably. I love when I get a chance to use that word. Indubitably.
JH: Speaking of Nationals, we just picked the date of July 12-14 for Nationals this year, again at Nelson Dewey State Park in Wisconsin. What are you looking forward to the most about that upcoming weekend?
EF: Just getting to see everyone from all the different chapters again. It is so cool to see how this game has spread and evolved in different parts of the country and this is the only time of the year when we get to truly experience it.
At Nationals, Eric joined five other studly johnballers in singing the sport’s “anthem”. It was a rapturous performance.
JH: Another question about Johnball Nationals. Did you notice a big difference in the way everyone played Johnball or did most people approach the game in more or less the same way?
EF: More or less I think everyone approached it in a similar way. I know at least one chapter where “bat throwing” was not frowned upon while most chapters do frown upon it but that’s about it there. The main difference came in the types of people who played for each chapter. It’s just cool how such a wide variety of people can enjoy this game.
[Author’s note: You can get a further taste of what Johnball Nationals was all about by checking out this video. But before you watch it, I want you to promise that you’ll brush your teeth reeeaaally good tonight. And when’s the last time you saw a dentist?]
JH: Back at Eau Claire, was it difficult to get people out to play Johnball when they had never even heard of it before?
EF: It can be a challenge to get new people to play, yes. Luckily, we’re finally on the path to becoming a university club so hopefully that will get easier from here. It is just hard to explain the greatness of Johnball with only words and not being able to always show them.
JH: I’ve been out to UWEC and played Johnball with you guys a few times. And you really have a fun crew of girls and guys out there. Who are some fellow Johnballers that you find particularly winsome?
EF: Well, there’s a lot. But let me give you three.
The first would be Vinnie Berken. He’s new to Johnball this year but he easily has the most enthusiasm of anyone at UWEC. Or pretty much anyone anywhere.
Secondly, I would have to say Cody Fisher is a man I admire. He’s one of my best friends as well as one of the most dedicated people to the sport of Johnball anywhere.
And then there’s Andrew Petz, who’s also new to Johnball this year. He is a really fun person to play with. And he really takes the rule of documentation to heart.
You can see a few of videos Andrew Petz has assembled by skidoo-ing over to the UWEC Johnball YouTube playlist.
JH: For scheduling Johnball gatherings, what seems to work best for your group: sticking to the same day, same time every week or playing it each time by ear?
EF: It really depends. I think it is good to have a regular time if it works for a lot of people and it makes it easier to schedule for it from week to week. At the same time, it is good to play by ear so that everyone can get a chance to play. So we end up doing it both ways.
JH: There’s a good amount of Johnball that goes on at UW-Stout, which is right by you guys at Eau Claire. Do you guys ever get around to playing together?
EF: Oh yeah we definitely do. We usually get together multiple times a semester. It may be as small as a couple guys from Stout coming to Eau Claire to as large as a few cars going from one school to the other. Always a good time.
JH: Guess what I had for breakfast this morning.
EF: Captain Crunch and some jelly toast
JH: Nope. Some white chocolate chips and a hot dog.
EF: You’re an inspiration to breakfast eaters everywhere my friend.
JH: You’re too kind. Moving right along, why do you think we don’t have Super Mario Johnball yet?
EF: Nintendo generally likes taking the same successful formula and repeating it a million times. Johnball hasn’t broken into the video game industry quite yet so we may need to get in with someone else like 2k sports or Square Enix.
JH: I’m only willing them to work with them if they promise to make Eric Franzen an unlockable playable character. And Atticus Finch.
EF: I’ve always dreamed of being mentioned in the same breath as Atticus Finch. That’s one more item off the bucket list.
JH: Well, now I’m curious. What are so other items on this bucket list of yours?
JH: Okay, so here’s a serious question. What do you get when you cross an elephant with a fish?
EF: A conversation starter with your frustrating father in-law. Am I right?
JH: Swimming trunks. The answer is swimming trunks. So hopefully this father-in-law likes super hilarious jokes.
JH: I got another one. What did the horse call his dull and uninteresting stablemate?
EF: You got me stumped as a freshly cut-down tree. What does the horse call him?
JH: A NEIGH-bore. Get it?
JH: For the sake of our listeners at home, I’ll be done. Could you share your dearest and most beloved Johnball memory?
EF: We played Johnball on Cinco de Mayo last year and that was one of the most fun times I’ve had period– not just while playing Johnball. Seriously was that much fun. It was raining and we got completely soaked but it was worth every drop.
JH: And what about your favorite episode of “Recess”?
EF: This may be cheating but I can’t get enough of the Recess Movie where T.J. Detweiller teams up with Principle Prickley to take down that no-summer hippie man.
JH: I don’t think I’m alone when I say that Johnball has definitely grown a lot over the past couple of years. Where do you hope to see the sport five, ten years from now?
EF: I hope the current college chapters are big enough where they can continue once the first wave of Johnballers pass through their respective schools. It would also be awesome if some new chapters pop up in the next five years so we can keep spreadin’ the good word. Hallelujah.
JH: And anything you’d like to see specifically with UWEC Johnball?
EF: I’d just like to see more people get involved. UWEC Johnball is always a ton of fun and the more the merrier.
JH: What would your words of advice be to someone who has never played Johnball before?
JH: Thanks for your time, Dr. Franzen. It’s been enjoyable chatting with you. Let me know if you’d like to play NBA Jam anytime soon.
EF: LOL TTYL, hit me up sometime.
(Back to that aforementioned Johnball video game, here’s an alleged leaked image…)
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