By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
A local chapter of Beard Team USA, Beard & Loathing in Kentucky, is taking facial hair to a whole new level.
Beard & Loathing is one of more than 100 sanctioned chapters of a national organization that “promotes the appreciation of facial hair nationwide,” according to the BTUSA website.
However, Richmond’s bearded (mustached, sideburned, goateed and hairless) members are using their group to do good work in their community.
“I don’t want to be a group of guys that just sits around and drinks beer and talks about our beards and mustaches,” said Kyle Isaacs, one of the team’s founding members. “Although I want to do that occasionally, we want to be a help within the community and donate our time and money to local charities.”
Beard & Loathing started in June 2011, and has since raised more than $3,000 for local organizations, Isaacs said.
Their first event was a simple cornhole tournament at The Paddy Wagon in downtown Richmond. The bearded group had never really organized a charity event before, but threw together a live band and prizes donated from local businesses.
They raised around $170 for the Kentucky Appalachian Mission of Hope during that first event, Isaacs said. “And to us at that time, we thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”
When a tornado devastated West Liberty March 2012, one of the group’s members, James Noble, compiled a video of the storm damage.
The video was created for one of Noble’s classes at Eastern Kentucky University, but it prompted the group to load up two cars with $200 worth of supplies to help with cleanup efforts.
“I didn’t feel like we did much,” said Isaacs. “But like I’ve said from the very beginning: ‘I want our charity works to be like our beards, and just grow with no limits.’”
The group celebrates all types of facial hair, Isaacs said. “Some of our members just have a big curly mustache, or they have really big sideburns, and one member can’t grow facial hair at all.”
Isaacs has worn a beard since he graduated from Madison Southern High School. And when he first learned about Beard Team USA, he didn’t have many bearded friends.
However, one beard led to another and the group eventually grew to around 25 regular members who represent all walks of life. Some are insurance agents, factory workers, daycare teachers, students, veterans, artists, musicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, college graduates (some with master’s degrees), members of the tattoo and piercing community and four are Kentucky colonels.
“I’ve met people I otherwise would have never met,” Isaacs said. Often times, conversations start with: “Hey, that’s a nice mustache (or beard, or sideburns, or goatee).”
“No one has ever thought that (compliment) was weird,” Isaacs said of the hairy-faced people he has met.
Because of the car washes, art shows, cornhole tournaments, food drives, clothing drives, charity events and beard competitions, many people are beginning to recognize the group and its distinctive name.
“Beard and Loathing” is a play on words derived from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” a novel by the late Hunter S. Thompson of Louisville.
Isaacs is a big fan of the writer, and planned to write a short story titled “Beard and Loathing,” he said. When he formed the group in 2011, he thought it sounded like the right name, especially since Thompson is from Kentucky.
Main officers are given seafarer’s ranks like “Chief Officer,” “First Mate,” “Master at Arms” and “Botswains Mate.”
Many people just refer to Isaacs as simply “The Captain.”
They also have a support group called Kentucky Beardettes, made up of women who support their cause and participate in all of the events and functions, Isaacs said.
Some of the women go to the competitions with fake beards, said junior officer Ian Long.
On Feb. 2, a bearded competition will be hosted at Cosmic Charlie’s in Lexington by the Lexington Beard Team chapter The Nomadic Beardsmen of the Bluegrass.
This year, inspired by the Richmond group, The NBB will donate all of the event’s proceeds to charity.
Joined by the Derby City Whisker Club, a beard team from Louisville, the three groups form The Commonwealth of Kentucky Bearders. They hope their joined facial hairstyles will earn the respect and admiration of fellow bearders at the national competition in New Orleans in September.
“People see someone with a really long beard and they automatically think they’re a biker, or a criminal or something,” Isaacs said. “But the people at these beard competitions are friendly and interesting, and your physical shape doesn’t matter.”
The team will participate in the Kentucky Polar Plunge in Lexington on Feb. 9 to “freeze for a reason” and raise money for the Special Olympics.
Participants must raise a minimum of $75 ($50 for ages 6-18) to take a chilly dip into a pool. Last year, the event raised nearly $75,000 to support Special Olympics Kentucky athletes.
Beard & Loathing will host its own Bluegrass Beard-off on May 10 at the Paddy Wagon.
The cover charge will be $5 and it will cost another $5 to enter your facial hair into the competition.
After around $30 is spent on trophies, the rest of the proceeds will be put in the group’s general fund and then a charity will be chosen, Isaacs said.
When the group started, they would just call up different organizations and tell people what they were all about.
“A bunch of people thought we were joking,” said Isaacs, who sports a jacket with the Beard & Loathing logo on the back. But “now people have heard of us and comment on my jacket.”
The group is currently looking for a good charity to make a donation to and will take suggestions via Facebook or email at beardn firstname.lastname@example.org.
One day, they hope to fund a Habitat for Humanity home, but the captain knows it might take a while to get there.
“If we give $5, that’s $5. But we’re never going to be satisfied. We’re going to keep on growing.”
Beard & Loathing is open to all who want to join, as is the national organization, which states: “Membership in America’s team is open to everyone. There are no annoying applications, dues, membership requirements, or gender tests. Unlike some sporting organizations, Beard Team USA encourages the use of performance “enhancing” substances.
“BTUSA also opposes discrimination against the bearded, mustached, sideburned, and goateed.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.