SOLON — Former Iowa Hawkeyes football player — and past hay bale toss champion — Matt Kroul is to be on the sidelines of this year’s Solon Beef Days competition for good reason — he’s organizing it.
“It’s an easy way to say I’m retiring,” said Kroul, who has participated in the competition — a popular staple at the annual festival — for the last eight years.
Solon Beef Days kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday and runs late into the night Saturday. The 17th annual hay bale toss begins at 7 p.m. Friday.
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During the event, participants try to hurl a 70-pound hay bale higher than other competitors. The bar is set up much like a high jump and participants get two tries at each height before the bar is raised another 6 inches.
“If you miss twice in a row, you’re out,” Kroul said.
This year’s competition is set to include a women’s, men’s and senior division for those age 50 and older, Kroul said.
About 40 people, including Iowa football players, other athletes from the area, farmers and just plain strong folks typically compete, Kroul said.
The Hawkeyes have had good performances in past competitions.
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Kroul, along with Hawkeyes Julian Vandervelde, Drew Ott and Solon-native James Morris have all competed in the past.
“It’s pretty cool how high some of them can throw it,” said Kroul, who also spent time with the NFL’s New York Jets.
Morris, who spent time in the NFL with the New England Patriots and New York Giants, said he plans to be back for Friday’s competition. He’s taken a few years off, but is excited to hurl hay again.
“The most vivid memory for me is the environment and crowd and everyone cheering you on,” Morris said. “This is a unique event.”
In 2007, Herky the Hawkeye even came to cheer on the participants.
Kroul speculates other Hawkeyes are likely to make an appearance this year.
As a Mount Vernon native, Kroul first heard of the event as a sophomore at the University Iowa and began participating. Now operating Kroul Farms in Mount Vernon, he decided to help the Solon Beef Days committee instead of competing.
In his first year organizing the competition, Kroul hopes the competition is lively and fun.
Registration for the event is from 6-7 p.m. Friday and starts with the women’s competition. The entry fee is $5, which includes a T-shirt. First- and second-place finishers earn prize money and a trophy.
“Don’t be discouraged to participate,” Kroul said. “Give it a whirl and see what happens.”
And what does the former hay bale toss champion recommend for technique?
“Can I give that away?” he laughed, adding the angles of the bale should be just like a high jumper sailing over the bar and the best throwing form is similar to how you’d throw a shot put.