St Petersburgh Times
May 21, 1999

Tampa Bay Hash

Tampa Bay Hash

St Petersburgh Times
May 21, 1999
By: Babita Persaud

On a Saturday afternoon in a shady office complex off 56th Street, a grown man a draftsman for the city of Tampa drinks beer from his running shoe.

The heel of his chunky Air Jordans is wedged in his mouth. His head is tilted back. His friends, all part of his running group, crowd around him, cheering him on.

"Down! Down! Down!'' they yell.

If the shoes were old, the man, Richard Rivera, wouldn't have to drink from them.

But they are new and among these runners, that simply is not allowed.

They are hashers of the Tampa Bay Hash House Harriers, or HHH for short. It's a different kind of running group, one where nature is the course, not some indoor track, and where drinking beer is allowed before, during (at pit stops) and after a run.

"We're a drinking group with a running problem,'' explains Steve Jensen, a longtime hasher.

But it would be wrong to presume that the keg propped up in the pickup truck is the only thing they share.

Hashers also share a belief that running has veered from its roots.

That it is no longer recreation.

That it is more about the 5K and 10K and marathons you've run. And the color-coordinated outfits and new shoes you have.

So in hashing, no new shoes! Or you drink from them.

No matching outfits.

No marathon pins or T-shirts.

No saying the R-word (race).

No pointing, because that simply is rude. Hashers use their elbows when signifying direction.

Also, no spilling beer. "That offends the hash god,'' says Jensen.

When drinking during initiation ceremonies, remove ball caps or other headgear and kneel. Show respect.

And for heaven's sake, have a sense of humor. "Laugh a little,'' says Dianne Reeger.

Running can be a social activity. It can be fun. + + +

The trail can go anywhere, through thick palmetto scrubs, through subdivisions, along highways, over walls, across the Hillsborough River, into malls.

Hashers meet every other weekend, rain or shine, at different spots: Temple Terrace, Bayshore, Carrollwood, Hyde Park. Occasionally they meet during full moons. On Valentine's Day, hashers run in red dresses. Even the men.

Sound nuts?

Hashing is a worldwide phenomenon, started in 1938 by a British businessman who was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A.S. Gispert had a penchant for Hare and Hounds, a children's game in which the "hare'' is pursued by a pack of shouting "hounds.''

The hare is given a head start and shreds paper along the way. The hounds, also called harriers, try to catch him. Gispert organized such games with other expatriates, meeting at the Selangor Club, which was commonly referred to as "hash house'' because of its lackluster food.

Hashing spread around the globe, usually through the military. (Gispert was a captain in the reserves.) Today, hashing groups are everywhere: Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Chile, India, Greece, Egypt. Greater Beirut hashers meet every Saturday either in the city or countryside. San Diego hashers meet every night.

Every odd year, hashers in North, South and Central America congregate for the InterAmerican Hash. Every even year, a worldwide meet is held. Last year's was in Malaysia and marked the 60th anniversary of hashing.

Orlando hasher Dan Hellriegel was there.

"It was great,'' he says. Nearly 6,000 people came. Hashes were held every other day. Busloads were driven out to the starting points. At night, hashers partied in a stadium.

"It was my first time out of the country,'' says Hellriegel, 33.

Next year, he's off to a hash in Tasmania. + + +

Gainesville has a hashing group, and so do Key West and Palm Beach. Orlando has several, including the Bikeo Psychos, who ride, run and drink.

Tampa Bay has three:

+ St. Pete Hash House Harriers.

+ P.M.S. Hash House Harriers ("P'' standing for Port Tampa, "M+' for MacDill Air Force Base, "S'' for south Tampa).

+ Tampa Bay HHH, the largest, oldest and most active. It was started in 1988 by a couple and their two friends. Today, the harrier pack can exceed 50. Everyone pays $5 per hash, which covers the beer before the run.

In this crowd are a graphic artist, an Army veteran, a nurse at Moffitt Cancer Center, a social worker, a manager at International Paper, a schoolteacher who pleads not to have her name in the paper. She doesn't want the headache. "I know a parent out there will complain because a teacher had a beer,'' she says.

They range in age from college to 40-somethings. Some are singles. Others are married, like Nancy and Ken Lloyd, who on May 25, 1991, had a wedding hash. She wore a white lace T-back and running bra. He wore a tuxedo T-shirt and shorts. Vows were exchanged halfway. The presiding justice of the peace was a hasher.

"We have the neatest wedding pictures,'' says Nancy Lloyd.

No one here goes by birth names, and that's just how they like it. Everyone goes by his or her hashing name, bestowed by the pack after a prying interrogation of their personal life. So you have One Night Stand and Uranus and Box Packer (the International Paper guy) and Candy Wrapper, whose boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) was named Candy.

The names can be R-rated, which didn't sit too well with one hasher several years ago. She told the pack she didn't want a "vile, disgusting, dirty name'' because she wanted to be able to tell her family the name without embarrassment, or else, she told the pack, "I'll never come again.''

And so, that's what they named her: I'll Never Come Again.

Needless to say, she didn't. + +

Before the hash can begin, there must be a blessing. A circle forms around the hares, John Maltempo and Mike Answeeney. Hands unite. Heads bow.

Answeeney leads: "For this trail we are about to receive may we be truly thankful.

"Copus no catch us.

"Dogus no bite us.

"Redneckus don't shoot us.

"Trail be true. Trail be short.

"Beer be near.''

The hares shout the traditional "On! On!'' before setting off on their 15-minute head start.

The trail is laid with flour and chalk markings every few yards. The pack blows whistles to communicate. Not everyone in the pack is in hot pursuit of the hares. There are also "walkie-talkies,'' stragglers who chitchat.

"I hate running,'' says Cassandra Nelson, one walkie-talkie. "But I love socializing.''

Trails are generally 3 to 6 miles, with one or two refueling spots along the way. The pickup with the keg appears, or the stop could be a bar.

Today's trail snakes through tree-lined neighborhoods in Temple Terrace, past Meadow Wood golf course, across the Hillsborough River, where one hasher goes the full monty, putting his clothes back on after getting to the other side.

At a lawn party, the hashers stop to pose for a picture with the birthday girl. At a neighborhood playground, they take a swing.

A serious runner, in matching outfit, passes them.

"Join us,'' a hasher shouts.

But the runner ignores them and heads off in the opposite direction. + +

Is hashing good for you?

Dr. Stephen Glasser, professor of internal medicine and director of clinical pharmacology at the University of South Florida, wouldn't recommend it. Generally, alcohol has adverse affects on the body, including increasing heart rate and impairing the body's ability to function, Glasser says. It is not a time for physical exertion.

An unapparent heart problem could complicate matters, he said.

The hashers have no doubt that there are benefits.

"Hashing is psychologically fit,'' says Nelson.

"To me, it gives all these people, after a week of work, a way to let loose,'' says Henry Gonzalez.

"BN'' is marked in blue chalk on the sidewalk near an apartment complex.

"Beer Near!'' says one walkie-talkie.

The pickup truck with the keg can be seen around the corner.

Soon, the ceremonies, called "Down-Down,'' begin. Be ready for lots of singing with the drinking. Most songs are variations of old British rugby tunes, such as True Blue.

"She's true blue. Hey! She's a hasher, through and through.''

Other are familiar, such as this ditty sung to The Flintstones theme.

"Hashers / Meet the hashers / We're the biggest drunks in history / From the town of Tampa / We're the leaders in debauchery . . .''

Hashing traditions and songs differ from city to city. In Atlanta, new members have to sit on a block of ice with their pants down. In the Bahamas, "butt chugs''drinking beer slid down a woman's backis the thing.

The Tampa crowd is more subtle, requiring hashers to kneel during initiation or penalty ceremonies.

"Virgins! We need virgins up front,'' says the hare, calling newcomers.

Mike Matthews, 27, strolls to the center of the circle. He heard about hashing from a runner in a road race recently and gave the hot line number(813) 265-HASHa call.

"This is running like I've never known it. This is drinking like I've never known it,'' says Matthews, plastic mug in hand.

Next ritual on the agenda: Naming Julie, a new hasher.

The pack surrounds her.

What do you do for a living?

"Dental assistant.''

What's your favorite food?


Favorite color?


Poor Julie. The questions come too fast for her to answer.

Do you have any hidden talent?

What are your hobbies?

After the grilling, Julie is scooted away to the other end of the parking lot.

The pack huddles, brainstorming on names. Ten minutes later, they call Julie back.

"From now on and forever more,'' says ceremony leader Jensen, "you will be known as . . . Open Wide.''

The pack breaks into laughter. And so does Julie.


PG: 6T
AT: alcohol$ running


CU: Greg Popp, holding a golf club he found along the road, is about to enter the Hillsborough River behind Eileen Hill, who holds her shoes on one hand and her cup in the other. (ran Pg. 1T)

CU: Robert Lewis and his fiancee, Cassandra Nelson, pass the halfway mark of the hash. They were to get their hash names after running the race.

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