Like a Kid Again: Cape Fear Sports
Cape Fear Sports, Wilmington’s only sport and social club, offers fun ways for adults to get out, meet people and have a great time.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lindsey A. Miller
On a recent Tuesday night at The Husk sports bar in downtown Wilmington, a group of 20-somethings gathered around what looked like a set from the television competitor show American Ninja Warrior.
Two teams of six people squared off in a neon blue court with a small soccer goal at either end. Posters of various sponsors were pasted to the walls. The game was human Foosball and the objective was to score against the opposing team while remaining affixed to poles stretched horizontally across the court — a real, life-sized version of the popular Foosball table game. The game was competitive and fun, but the true goal of the night was to meet new people and enjoy a few craft beers, tater tots and chicken wings.
Cape Fear Sports, a local company that bills itself as “a 21+ adult coed social sporting league,” arranged the event. The company slogan is “Be Active, Be Social.” In addition to human Foosball, the company organizes leagues for at least a dozen other traditional and offbeat games, including dodgeball, kickball, bowling, wiffle ball and something called bubble soccer, in which players in large plastic bubbles bounce off one another a roll around while trying to score a soccer goal (just as much fun for spectators as participants).
The company is the brainchild of Maine transplant Tim Cramer. A friend of Tim’s introduced a similar concept in Maine. Tim caught the bug and teamed up with local entrepreneur Clark Shay to bring the idea to Wilmington. “There was nothing like it in Wilmington,” Cramer says. That was two years ago.
The concept took off, and Cape Fear Sports now organizes events as many as five nights a week.
“The amount of growth we’ve had in two years is mind boggling,” Shay says. What he and Cramer thought would be a fun side business has become a full-time venture.
They developed a following mostly by word of mouth. As the former owner of Side Bar in downtown Wilmington, Shay had many connections within the service industry. He started promoting the idea through Wilmington’s vibrant bar and restaurant community, and it took off from there. The leagues now include teams of nurses, teachers, UNCW professors, construction workers and dentists. Cape Fear Sports now counts more than 1,300 members, and the company’s Facebook page boasts more than 3,000 Likes.
Here’s how it works. Local bars and restaurants pay a sponsor fee to host an event, and players pay a league fee to participate. Cape Fear Sports provides all the equipment and referees. Each player receives a team T-shirt, and the bar and restaurant sponsors get a large and loyal crowd for the night. The clientele consists of young, active people with disposable income. The average age of participants is late 20s to early 30s, but they have players ranging in age from 22 to 60.
The real draw of Cape Fear Sports is the social atmosphere. All teams must be coed, and participants spend as much time schmoozing as competing. “It’s really about meeting people, having a good time and doing something competitive,” Shay says. People these days are looking for ways to meet and interact with people offline, he adds. People who are new in town often reach out to them. The events can be an excellent business networking opportunity. Shay found his insurance broker through Cape Fear Sports.
Cramer and Shay also credit their success to the types of games offered. Kickball is their most popular sport, with ten teams of 12 to 15 people each. Kickball is an outdoor activity that reminds people of their time in middle school, Shay says: “It’s just one of those nostalgic sports that really takes people back to when they were growing up.”
Dodgeball and wiffle ball fit the same mold. The more unique ideas often come from YouTube. That’s where Cramer and Shay discovered human Foosball and bubble soccer. “We were the first human Foosball league I know in North Carolina,” Shay says, “and maybe the East Coast.”
Facebook friends discover other offbeat sports online. The company gets tagged on a daily basis to let them know about the next crazy thing out there. “I literally get 10 to 15 suggestions a day for new ideas,” Cramer says. The next thing they might try is human bowling. Competitors climb inside a large plastic bubble and roll themselves toward 8-foot-tall inflatable bowling pins.
Twice a year, Cape Fear Sports hosts a Putt Putt Bar Crawl. Participants visit nine different bars and complete one putt putt shot at each location. The last event attracted more than 100 players. They also host happy hours.
With Cape Fear Sports though, it’s never enough to stand around with nothing to do, so happy hours include events like rock-paper-scissors tournaments and “Minute to Win It” contests, based upon the Howie Mandel–hosted game show of the same name. Contests include events like one minute to eat a doughnut off a string, shove Q-tips up your nose or pull all the Kleenex out of a box.
On Thursday nights it’s Craft Beer Cornhole at a different local brewery each week. “Tim and I have a blast with our members, and we’ve made a lot of good friends with the people in our leagues,” Shay says. “It’s been a wonderful business venture.”
Want to play?
Cape Fear Sports recommends registering and paying for events on the company’s website at capefearsportsnc.com.
For the latest news, they suggest following them on Facebook:
Cape Fear Sports
You can also call or email: (910) 632-0985 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For now, offerings include wiffle ball on Sundays, golf on Mondays, human Foosball on Tuesdays, kickball and beach volleyball on Wednesdays, and the popular Craft Beer Cornhole on Thursdays. Look for the Putt Putt Bar Crawl just before Labor Day, and happy hours throughout the summer.