Last year, Lincoln made headlines across the nation as nearly 1,000 people gathered to witness an unusual event: a battle for the name ‘Josh.’
This year, the fight will return.
In April 2021, Joshes and non-Joshes alike gathered in Air Park for a pool noodle battle to compete for the title of the ultimate Josh. In the end, 4-year-old Joshua Vinson Jr. of Omaha was declared the winner. Vinson was awarded a paper crown from Burger King and a replica All Elite Wrestling world championship belt.
At 11 a.m. on May 21, hopeful Joshes and spectators will gather in Bowling Lake Park for the second Josh Fight. Event organizer Josh Swain said this year’s event will be more structured than last year, including food trucks and a costume contest. The event will once again be a charity fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center Foundation in Omaha, as well as a food drive for the local food bank.
Last year’s event was the result of a viral internet meme – a screenshot of a Facebook message sent by Swain, a then-student of civil engineering at the University of Arizona.
“In 2020, I made a Tweet challenging a bunch of people with my name, Josh, to a battle to find the one true Josh – the one person who deserved the name, Josh – in a year’s time, in the rough geographical center of the U.S,” Swain said.
Swain included a set of coordinates in the Facebook message, which happened to be in Lincoln.
“A year later, people did not forget,” Swain said. “In fact, they were very excited about it. So, I came out to Lincoln.”
UNL student Aaron Vrba and his friend saw the viral meme and decided to go to the listed coordinates a few days before the event. When they arrived, Vrba said they found a wooden sign that said “No Josh Fight here.”
They decided to reach out to Swain.
“We had emailed him saying, ‘Hey, we just wanna let you know this location you’re planning on having it – It’s private property. You can’t do it there. We can help you find a different location,’” Vrba said.
The fight was relocated to Air Park. The wooden sign at the listed coordinates was updated to direct attendees to the fight. Eventually, Swain also decided to turn the event into a fundraiser.
What happened next is history.
“It was like absolute insanity and beauty all in the same thing,” Vrba said.
Both Swain and Vrba said they were shocked by the turnout. Vrba attributes the event’s success to the power of the internet.
“I think the reason it was also really successful is that we were still in the pandemic,” he added. “For some people, this was something to do and something to look forward to.”
The event initially raised over $14,000 dollars and more than 200 pounds of donated food. A few weeks later, California winery Josh Cellars tripled the donation by donating $30,000 to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. The winery, founded by Joseph Carr, was named in honor of his father, Josh.
The fundraiser will continue this year and tickets are available online. Entry is $10 for attendees and $11 for anyone who wants to participate in the Josh Fight. Swain said all proceeds will be donated and the website includes a transparency statement about how the money from each ticket is spent.
“A lot of people are concerned with preserving the sanctity of the original Josh Fight, which I totally understand,” he said. “But, we raised a lot of money last year and brought joy to a lot people in Lincoln and across the world. I felt like it would be a shame to let that momentum go to waste. And, even if we raised a thousand dollars for charity, I feel like it was worth it.”
Rachel Barth, director of communications at the Lincoln Airport, is helping Swain to promote this year’s event. Barth said part of her job is community outreach. And, since the fight is taking place at Bowling Lake Park on airport property, it made sense to get involved.
Barth said that she didn’t hear about last year’s event until after the fact.
“I almost felt bad,” she said. “Like, if I would’ve known about this, I would’ve helped out. But I think that was kind of part of the coolness factor of it — It was a little quiet and nobody really knew until it happened. I’m excited to see it hopefully be successful this year with a little more marketing and PR behind it.”
Swain hopes to make the Josh Fight an annual event in Lincoln.
“This year we’re trying to do a kind of a proof of concept where we’re not doing anything crazy,” he added. “It’s not, you know, Coachella: Lincoln Edition. But, we’re trying to just have some fun and raise some money.”
Barth said turnout for this year’s event will be important to determine the future of the Josh Fight.
“Of course I’m excited for the actual fight just because I wanna see people hit each other with pool noodles,” she said. “But I also just wanna know – is this something that’s sustainable? Or is it just one of those one-time things that worked out really well?”
Tickets and more information for the event are available on thejoshfight.com.