John “Johnny Hei’z” Heywood is your 2009 Major League Dreidel champion, and he didn’t even get bar mitzvahed!
With drama lurking behind every turn, Heywood outlasted his rival, three-time finalist and 2008 MLD winner “Virtual Dreidel,” in the fourth and final round with a spin for the ages.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Heywood, a rookie, told supporters, freely offering praise to “Virtual Dreidel” like Hanukkah gelt. “I owe a lot to him.”
Both men survived a grueling, three-hour contest held at The Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Ave.) on December 12, the second night of Hanukkah. Sponsored by Modern Tribe, which sells the six-point star gameboard, the tournament featured 120 contestants ranging from professional spinners to amateur twirlers such as Jason Ferman, aka “Jay-Spin,” who posted a 14.93 second mark in the qualifying round.
“I’ve never really thought about competitive dreidel before,” said Ferman, who noted that it was too early to tell whether a higher power was on his side.
Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Show Me Your Gelt!” contestants in four brackets representing the four sides of the dreidel, battled each other spin for spin. Virtual Dreidel emerged from the competitive gimmel bracket, defeating Spindiana Jones in a nail-biting quarterfinal match before rubbing out Spincent Van Gogh in the semifinals with the night’s longest spin, at 16.97 seconds.
Johnny Hei’z advanced from the nun bracket, taking down Spinny The Pooh in the quarterfinals and edging The Wool Spinner, a member of the dreidel travel-team “Team Smoot,” in the semifinals, to set up the epic championship match.
The pressure was intense, as Virtual Dreidel revealed that his palms and fingers were a little sweaty before the contest.
“The crowd sometimes chanted “VD” and I think it might have gotten to him,” said MLD Knishioner Eric Harris Pavony. “Honestly when it comes down to the final spin zone, I’ve never seen anybody excel under that kind of pressure, except for Peyton Manning.”
After Heywood scored the upset, Virtual Dreidel would not make excuses for his performance and was gracious in defeat, acknowledging that his competitor has a bright and promising future in competitive dreidel.
For Knishioner Pavony, the result represented the culmination of years of planning and hopes of taking a Hanukkah tradition to a wider audience.
“When people ask, can non-Jews compete? I say everyone has the same shot to win,” said Pavony. “(Johnny Hei’z) owns his own spinagogue and he has been practicing for a while now.”
Minutes after midnight a new champion was blessed. Heywood was hoisted onto a chair by his rivals, as the band Gods of Fire played a metal version of Havah Nagila while the crowd danced the hora, a traditional Jewish dance, and chanted his name.
For his efforts, Heywood took home a custom crystal MLD trophy, a gift basket from www.moderntribe.com, a menorah and candles with gelt, and another spinagogue.
“Now he’s got two. He said he’s going to sign it and put it on eBay,” said Pavony.
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