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Musical chairs event attracts 1,500

Competition attempted to break record in Amesbury

Emma Miller (center) tried to squeeze in during a game of musical chairs.
Emma Miller (center) tried to squeeze in during a game of musical chairs.(Lisa Poole for the boston globe)

AMESBURY — This was musical chairs on steroids.

It happened Saturday at Amesbury Sports Park when nearly 1,500 players attempted to set a new record for the largest game of musical chairs. Though the game fell short of the 10,000-player target, winner Mike Sugalski of Nashua took home $10,000 and was crowned the Musical Chairs World Champion.

Sugalski, 31, beat the hundreds of competitors who shimmied, pumped their fists, and pranced around chairs before the music stopped and they dashed into in a seat. Sugalski’s strategy was simple: “Sit before everyone else.”

As referees pulled away chairs one by one, only he and Elizabeth Curran of Franklin were left dancing to the lyrics of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” Curran, 23, never expected to be the runner-up. “I couldn’t even make it through the practice round,” she said, laughing.

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Though Sugalski joked he was going to use the money to go to Disney World, he said he’ll likely divide it with friends he came with who ran a photo booth for the event.

Fred Smith, 32, of Tyngsborough came up with the idea for a musical chairs championship about 18 months ago. Smith is the executive director of SmithFest, a company that organizes events like the world’s largest scavenger hunt. When someone called and woke him up to pick his brain for an innovative fund-raiser idea, Smith said, he rolled over half asleep and responded, “Musical chairs.”

Not a bad idea, he realized after becoming fully awake. Fund-raisers could form teams and sell tickets to players. Smith searched the Internet to see if there have been similar musical chairs events, but his Google search turned up zero results.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “There’s rock, paper, scissors competitions, but no one has ever played musical chairs.”

As a fund-raiser, that is. In fact, the Guinness World Records receives about 10 to 15 claims a year of groups trying to set a record for the largest game of musical chairs, according to Guinness spokeswoman Sara Wilcox. Because Saturday’s championship was set up as a tournament — with four heats of 80 players instead of a single game with all players — the event became a new Guinness category.

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The largest game of musical chairs was held at the Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore on Aug. 5, 1989. The game had 8,238 players, and three and a half hours later, a 15-year-old won the title of Musical Chairs Champion.

Smith hoped to break the record by promoting the event on television and radio and posting funny videos on YouTube. One is a parody of “The Fighter,” in which a tough coach puts muscular men through musical chairs drills in a boxing rink. Smith, who signed his e-mails with “chairs” instead of “cheers,” also told anyone he met, “You could be 8,239.”

A.J. Lavery (right) was eliminated during the finals of the Musical Chairs World Championship Saturday.
A.J. Lavery (right) was eliminated during the finals of the Musical Chairs World Championship Saturday.(Lisa Poole for the boston globe)

Though he didn’t reach his goal, Smith said he was happy with the turnout and plans to turn the competition into an annual event.

Only people 18 or older could participate in Saturday’s event. Players were advised to wear comfortable clothing and closed-toe shoes. The rules were standard: Players had seven seconds to find a seat after the music stopped. Pushing, shoving, or any physical violence resulted in automatic ejection from the game.

The seven-hour game — sanctioned by the World Musical Chairs Federation — had 15 referees stationed around rows of white folding chairs. Referee Doug Ivers, 36, from Dracut said there was “serious competition.”

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“We’re in charge of helping keep the pace, making sure there’s no hovering, no arm action. It’s all in the butt,” he said.

Best Fitness in Nashua, N.H., offered a free one-hour musical chairs training class a few Saturdays before the event. Krysta Donahue, a trainer from Leominster, led the class of five to 10 people in a regimen of stretches, squats, and jumping jacks before pumping up the tunes and refereeing a game of musical chairs. Donahue, 26, said the class was a fun way for people to exercise.

“You turn into a kid again,” she said. “You can’t play this game without smiling.”

Lowell resident Nicole Marques, 25, led her team of five musical chairs lovers in warm-up moves before the event started. “It’s all about the shuffle, pivot, and sit,” she said.

About 20 charities, including former professional wrestler Steve Chamberland’s 50 Legs, participated in the game. Chamberland said his goal is to donate 50 prosthetic legs to 50 kids in each state in 50 weeks. The wrestler, who has a prosthetic leg due to a motorcycle crash, did not make it past the first round.

“I even tried the handicapped gig. I said, ‘Listen, I’ve only got one leg. Can’t you just give me the seat, please?’ Nobody felt bad for me,” he joked.


Stephanie Steinberg can be reached at stephanie.steinberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @steph_steinberg.

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Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story about musical chairs misidentified the song “Baby Got Back.”