MAD MAX: Spirit Lake's Max Bower clears sport stacking milestone in tourney win
For most preteens, stacking dishes is a chore.
For 12-year-old Max Bower, it's an obsession.
Enter the Bower household on any given evening and you will likely be greeted with the rapid-fire clatter of plastic on plastic. An unusual occurrence in most homes, for George and Lori Bower, the cacophony has become common place.
"It's constant racket," George says with a laugh. "We have to close the door to watch TV."
Follow the racket and you'll find Max.
In a dimly-lit room surrounded by wood panelling, the Spirit Lake sixth-grader feeds his obsession. A piano sits along one wall. Opposite the piano, a wooden desk holds the source of all the commotion. At first glance, the tower of cups seems ordinary. Upon closer inspection they, and the young man furiously stacking them up and tearing them down, are anything but.
As a kindergartner in Tim O'Hagan's P.E. class, Max was first introduced to cup stacking -- or sport stacking, as it is officially labeled by the World Sport Stacking Association. More than three years later, what started out as a hobby has become much, much more.
"[Originally] I think everybody else in my class thought, 'Eh, this is kind of cool,' but I saw it as the coolest thing in the universe," Max says. "[Mr. O'Hagan] showed us a video of the fastest stacker in the world at that time and I just thought, 'I want to do that. There's nothing else I want to do. I just want to do that.' When I got home, I started using drinking cups out of (my parents') cupboards and I would stack with those. For Christmas that year, they got me my first actual set and I've never stopped."
Months after first picking up the sport, Max took first place in his age group in the 3-6-3 stacking competition in Ames with a state record time of 4.09 seconds. His performance automatically qualified him for the first-ever Sport Stacking Championships at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Houston, where he placed 14th overall.
Since, Max has competed in several tournaments from Houston to Detroit to St. Louis -- where he recently reached a speed stacking milestone.
After placing in the top three overall in the 3-3-3, 3-6-3 and cycle competitions, Max had an opportunity to better his times in the Stack of Champions at the 2015 WSSA Open Seussational Sport Stacking Tournament. There, he became one of only 29 people in the world to ever finish the cycle in under 6 seconds and also earned the title of Top Overall Stacker for the first time.
Max said he felt confident coming into the tournament, but didn't expect to go under 6 seconds in the cycle.
"Coming into the tournament, I was feeling confident because I've been to bigger tournaments," he said. "I've been to the Junior Olympics and Nationals. St. Louis was a smaller tournament, and I've been able to handle the pressure at a bigger tournament before, so I felt more confident coming into this one. On the day of the tournament, I walked in and I remembered that I'd been there before. They had the same tables and everything."
That level of comfort lent itself to blazing fast times across the board in the Stack of Champions, as Max bettered his effort in all three events. After finishing the cycle in 5.968 seconds, the place erupted.
"I just kept saying, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!'" Max said. "I was running around and high-fiving anybody who wanted one."
The closest comparison Max could draw to a sub-6 cycle is running a 9-second 100-meter dash in track.
"It's one of those things that not a lot of people have done," he said. "Of course there are faster stackers. There have been people, out of competition, who've had a sub-5-second cycle as a personal best. Those people go under 6 seconds in a tournament without even trying, so they're going for the new world record and stuff like that. For stackers who haven't done that a lot before -- my personal best is 5.6 seconds (in practice) -- to get a sub-6 in a tournament is cool. I didn't expect that."
Equally unexpected are the places that sport stacking has taken the Bower family.
At the end of April, they plan to travel to Kansas City for a tournament, and this summer, Max plans to compete once again at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"I always dreamed of competing in bigger tournaments," Max said. "The first one I went to was in Ames, and I thought it would be cool to go to tournaments like that and just have fun, maybe go to a few smaller tournaments in nearby states. I still remember the day when my mom and dad told me I had a letter from the WSSA inviting me to go to Texas for Junior Olympics. I never thought I would go there. I thought I would compete in some tournaments, but I didn't think it would take me to Detroit or Texas or Virginia Beach."
The Bowers have also started a stacking club at the local YMCA. Right now, the club has around 12 members in second grade on up, but George sees the club expanding to younger stackers in the near future.
"We started it advertising for second grade, and we should have opened it to younger kids," he said. "We thought it would be more of a middle school thing, but there are a lot of younger kids that are interested, so we'll probably open it up to those kids in the future. We're also looking to host stacking tournaments."
Max said he enjoys helping the younger kids learn the sport and especially likes watching them progress.
"It's a lot of fun helping the younger kids learn how to stack," he said. "When I learned stacking, I was in kindergarten. Now that I'm a little bit older, I'm teaching kids that are in like second grade and third grade who are interested it. There's nothing better than watching someone improve because it makes you feel like you're teaching them well. My best advice for them is to have fun. Don't try to beat other people. Do your best, have fun and cheer everyone on."
As he prepares for his next tournament, Max said he isn't putting too much pressure on himself to repeat his St. Louis performance.
"I'm not really expecting to beat my best time moving forward because it was kind of a surprise when I did it the first time," he said. "I guess, maybe I could have seen doing that in my head before I went up to the table. In practice at St. Louis I did a 5.94, so that gave me a little confidence. My expectations are a 1 (in the 3-3-3) a 2.4 (in the 3-6-3) and at least a 6 (in the cycle). That's what I want to do."
Beyond that, Max doesn't foresee a future without stacking.
"I want to stack until I can't do it anymore."