Stan Mangum and His Son Kim Are the Driving Force Behind the New Motorized Sport of Whirlyball
The WhirlyBall juggernaut has thus far spread to 17 cities, including Anchorage, Miami, Cleveland and Seattle. "It's lazy man's polo," says one devotee. "The perfect game for the couch potato." The rules aren't too complicated, either. Two teams of five players square off in WhirlyBugs—an electric-powered version of the bumper car—and score points by using a plastic scoop to throw a lightweight ball against an eight-inch wall-mounted target. Penalty points are deducted for malicious ramming, standing up in the car and using four-letter words—WhirlyBall, after all, is a family sport.
In fact, the game's inventors are a father-son team, Stan and Kim Mangum, of Murray, Utah. One day in 1962, Mangum père was watching Mangum fits play hockey in a golf cart. "It struck me," says Stan, a former auto-shop owner, "that hockey had been played on horses, on elephants, on skates—but it had never been played from a machine. I decided to invent one."
Easier said than done. The first prototype, says Stan, "moved like a floor buffer." Another, using a gasoline engine, emitted choking clouds of exhaust that made the players woozy. But now that the bugs are worked out, Stan predicts that WhirlyBall centers may one day outnumber bowling alleys. The first wave of players are enthusiastic, if not quite serious. "The main purpose of the game as I see it," says one, after tossing the ball to the wrong team and precipitating a four-car pileup, "is to have a few laughs and forget your troubles for a while."