CHALTSWATER, OK – On most days, the town of Chaltswater is a quiet place where not much happens. Moms go to grocery stores, old men go to the barber shop, kids skip school to steal chickens to sell on the black market – your usual small town fare. But once a year, thousands of people descend on this sleepy little town to participate in the world championship tournament, of the fastest growing sport in south east Oklahoma. If you’re thinking soccer, or table tennis, think again. If you’re in Chaltswater on the first weekend after the second Tuesday in April, you’d better bring some leather gloves and Neosporin, because you’re in Broglass world.
From its humble beginnings in the junkyards and landfills of the Arklatex area, competitive broken glass picking has swept the tri-state area like a prairie dust storm. For the uninitiated, Broglass is a timed event, in which contestants collect as much as they can in sixty seconds, of various glass vessels, which have been dropped from a height of six, eight, or twelve feet, depending on the class. Contestants are assigned a vessel at random through a lottery system. Whiskey bottles and Mason jars are common, with the occasional interior home lighting globe, hand mirror, or analog TV screen. Once the item has been weighed, it is dropped by an official on a step ladder, form a pre-determined height, again depending on class. As soon as the glass hits the ground, the fuse on a pop rocket is lit, giving the contestant only about five seconds to survey the shatter spread before the pop signals the start of the one minute he will have to collect the broken pieces. At the end of one minute, collection stops, the collection is weighed, and a score calculated based on the percentage of the original weight collected, and the difficulty of the spread, and size of pieces collected, with higher scores given for a wider spread, and smaller pieces, respectively.
I spoke with Doyle Miller, a local truck driver, and this year’s gold medal winner in the twelve foot class. He could barely contain his excitement, gesturing wildly with his slightly bloodied hands.
“Well I tell you what, when I drew that Maker’s Mark bottle, I had a good feelin. They usually make about a ten foot shatter with plenty of them little-tinys so you can really rack up on the points. Fact bui’ness, only a redhand¹ could loose with a Maker’s Mark, so I knew I was gonna do good. But then she didn’t shatter like usual, it was kindly more like a dad-gum forty-ounce malt liquor, and it don’t git no worse’n that. But when I heard that pop, I knew there weren’t nothing left but the pickin, so I just took off like a scalded dawg. Hey, all I know is, when that timer went off, I had my lucky tube sock stuffed, son she was about to come loose.”
As we were speaking though, a little of the dark side of the sport was revealed. A fight had broken out as the results of the six foot class were being announced. There were accusations that Gloveco, a local manufacturer of protective hand gear, had unduely influenced the judges in favor of their team, a member of which had won. A flip-flop clad, middle-aged woman known as “Wandalee” was leading an angry mob, armed with anything dangerous that was readily available; which in this case, unfortunately consisted of, as you can imagine, broken shards of glass.
Doyle said we’d have to catch up later, and he called for “Baby Doyle,” his mulleted eight-year-old son, who brought a tube sock full of broken glass for each of them. As they headed for the rumble, Baby Doyle stopped, turned around, and offered me his sock. “Mister, you can come git some of this if you want. Mama always says we gotta share.” I declined, but this small gesture of kindness definitely warmed my heart to this sport and its people, and I will never forget it.