STEPHENSVILLE, Wis. — The end of pig wrestling at St. Patrick Parish’s annual summer festival could have spelled the demise of a successful parish social and fundraising activity.Paula Helms, Deborah Wegner-Hohensee and Cindy Dorn, members of the Foosball Fillies team, battle the Diocesan Dynamos, a team of Green Bay diocesan employees, during the inaugural St. Patrick Parish human foosball tournament in Stephensville, Wis., Aug. 9. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)

But the response to this dire prediction was unanimous from parish leaders: when pigs fly.

Rather than fold their festival tents, event organizers, with the assistance of Green Bay diocesan leaders, found a new activity to showcase at the Aug. 9 summer gathering: human foosball with a Nerf-like ball resembling a pig.

Indeed, pigs did fly.

The inaugural human foosball tournament featured 18 teams with six players competing inside two outdoor pens (foosball tables) created using livestock gates and metal bars. Players held onto the bars while attempting to kick the foam rubber ball into a goal. Two of the 18 teams consisted of diocesan employees.

The foosball tournament replaced a controversial pig wrestling event that had been held for 44 years.

Last year, Global Conservation Group, a Wisconsin-based animal rights group, protested the event and claimed that animal abuse took place during the contest, a claim pig wrestling organizers denied.

Following months of discussion between the parish and the diocese, organizers decided to move on from the pig wrestling.

“After much prayer and many hours of discussion, we realize that what we had for 44 years in the Original Pig Rassle was memorable, legal and great family fun,” the parish noted on its website. “We also realize that our parish and diocesan talents could be better spent in areas that are less controversial. It is with great regret that we have discontinued the Original Pig Rassle. We are, however, very excited to begin this new tradition at St. Patrick Parish.”

Deacon Ken Bilgrien, pastoral coordinator at St. Patrick Parish, said community support for the parish picnic, now in its 45th year, was important.

“There is electricity in the air,” he told The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper. “We didn’t know” what the reaction would be, “but there is something in the air that hasn’t been here in the past. Maybe we are proving to the world, proving to ourselves, that you can move on, put it behind us.”

In addition to the human foosball contest, another new addition to the summer festival was a rural life Mass celebrated Sunday morning by retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau.

Fr. Dan Felton, vicar general of the Green Bay Diocese, was among seven diocesan employees to participate in the human foosball tournament as part of the Diocesan Dynamos. Another team with diocesan employees was named the Foosball Fillies. Fr. Felton assisted the parish’s leadership in the transition.

“It’s been a great event and as we celebrate and embrace parish picnics throughout the summertime, we are happy to have a diocesan team here at St. Patrick’s in the first, I believe, first human foosball tournament for a parish picnic,” he said. “To be a part of history, to be part of this event, we are just happy to be here. Thanks to all of the leadership for all they have done.”

In their first match, the Diocesan Dynamos defeated the Foosball Fillies, but lost their second game to exit the tournament.

While pig wrestling may be history, it remains entrenched in the hearts of many attending the summer bash.

Several foosball teams bore names such as Little Piggies and Hoggers and spectators sported a variety of swine colored outfits. There was even a pen with two small pigs in a shaded area near the foosball pens. A cardboard sign stated: “Pet the pigs for good luck.”

Over the loudspeaker, one announcer, while encouraging visitors to purchase raffle tickets for a pig roast, offered his own commentary.

“In over 44 years, we never lost a hog and had a lot of fun,” he reminisced. “The fight was not worth fighting, so we decided to move on. … We are doing our thing, we are having fun. We always take care of our animals here in the rural community.”

Lucero is the news and information manager at The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.