HEBRON — When he was 12 years old, Harold Brooks stole a jar of sodium, hid it in a hay loft, and one day while his parents were out, dropped a piece into water.

It exploded into his face.

Blinded, he lay in the hospital, fragrant with his own singed hair, and listened to the doctor tell his sobbing mother he’d never see again. Remorseful for her pain, he prayed, promising that given one more chance he’d straighten his life around. 

Miraculously, his vision came back the next day, and better than before. And so a seed was planted that would, decades later, became the Redneck “Blank,” formerly known as the Redneck Olympics, his magnum opus to make the world a better place by letting people be themselves. 

An autobiographical parable shared on Facebook and in a phone interview this week, Brooks said it highlights the adversity and doubt the games, now in their fifth year, continue to overcome. 

“Between changing the name, the International Olympic Committee saying we shouldn’t do this, people saying we shouldn’t do that, people saying our music is too loud or the very-wet T-shirt contest is bad. It’s almost like they’re trying to stop the fun,” Brooks said, referring to the lawsuit the IOC threatened in the first year unless the “Olympic” moniker was dropped. Brooks complied, but not before drawing national media attention and a spoof by “The Daily Show.” 

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Case in point: This year, a nonprofit that works with underprivileged youth requested — kindly — Brooks find a different donation source for proceeds from a horseshoe tournament, after it was learned the Confederate flag features in their advertising next to the American flag as sort of a spiritual rallying cry.

Brooks was surprised but not thrown off course. On the event’s Facebook page he took the point straight to its fans, posting a picture of a busty woman in a Confederate flag bikini taking a selfie in a mirror with the caption, “If you’re offended remove the flag . . . slowly.” 

Rednecks, he said, identify with the flag as a symbol of independence and rebellion.

“Rednecks are everyone who’s working hard and struggling. Just to survive, you have to be rebellious,” he said.

The event thrives, drawing a mass, cult following to Brooks’ 200-acre farm every summer. Attendance hovers around 2,000 at any point, and despite the influx of more and more people, the games retain a peaceful, impromptu nature; one is likely to stumble across a discussion about politics, a toothless man with a long beard, legal medicinal mushroom sales and a wedding, or at least a marriage proposal.

The days are full of music, mud, food, beer, semi-nudity and, as a bring-your-own-beverage event, more beer. The only real rules are no dogs and ATVs have to be parked before dark. 

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“It’s not low class, it’s not high class. We don’t care if you have a lot of money, rich or poor, we just care if you’re decent and polite.” 

The event runs July 30 to Aug. 2 and costs about $50,000 to put on. Tickets are sold out online but can be bought at the door at $50 for the weekend or $25 for a day. Brooks said he’s been approached by beer advertisers, but has never wanted the event to lose its “grassroots” feel. 

On Saturday, the core gamut of games returns, including the mud tug of war, greased watermelon run, wife haul, pickled-pig-feet bobbing and mud runs featuring every motor vehicle imaginable. The day culminates in the very-wet T-shirt contest, a pig roast and music. Snippets from the day and past shows will be broadcast on a giant video wall.

Bands this year include Skosh, Cold Blue Steel, Firewater Creek, Veggies by Day, Back In Black: The AC/DC Experience, Mallet Brothers and more. 

“I don’t do it for me; I’m honored to do it for other people,” Brooks said. “Someone said proudly to me, ‘I’m not a redneck.’ But I don’t understand it. To me, a redneck is someone who works hard, wants to have fun and doesn’t take themselves too seriously.” 

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