DARLINGTON -- Surely, this is the kind of moment ABC's Wide World of Sports never counted on.
Beginning today, the tiny Harford County hamlet of Darlington will play host to the Nude Olym-pick Games, a four-day event billed by its organizers as a world championship of athletics au naturel.
To many of the 500-or-so residents in this quaint, 170-year-old village nestled in the rolling hills 15 miles northeast of Bel Air, the prospect of an invasion by an expected 1,000 athletes in the altogether is downright shocking. But for others, such skin games are worth little more than a shrug of the shoulders, a wink or a chuckle over those city-folk and their darned peculiar ways.
"As long as they don't parade down Main Street, nobody's going toget upset," predicted Robert Suter, owner of the Darlington Pharmacy. "To each his own, I guess."
"Everybody thinks its funny," said Edna Reeves, manager of the town's Forest Hill State Bank branch and a native Darlingtonian.
"Usually we get majorettes, band camps or Boy Scouts visiting. This is just a little bit different."
June Griffith, co-owner of an antiques and gift store, said she was more concerned about the publicity the event has stirred and what type of sightseers may be attracted to the area.
"We don't want people to laugh at us because we're the first town in Maryland to host some nude olympics," she said. "We don't want our town invaded by a bunch of kooks."
The Nude Olym-pick Games are being sponsored by the Tri-State SunClub, a nudist group from Broadway, N.J., and the Naturist Society. A similar event was held last summer in suburban Philadelphia, making Darlington's effort the "second annual" games, according to organizers.
The weekend has also been billed as a private gathering of East Coast naturists -- the preferred term for outdoor nudists -- and has been promoted strictly as a wholesome, family event.
"It's a common misconception that nudism is somehow sexual," said Bill Pacer, a Baltimore County resident who is serving as spokesman for the games. "We emphasize that nudism is only a lack of attire. Sex is a state of mind. We endorse the nuclear family and wholesome activities."
Mr. Pacer points to himself as an example of a typical nudist.
A father of three who has been married for 15 years, he found taking off his clothes "wonderful . . . relaxing [and] a great equalizer" and joined a nudist club in Crownsville in Anne Arundel County.
The term Olym-picks is meant as a light-hearted way to emphasize that nudism is a lifestyle people "pick," Mr. Pacer said.
Organizers are also quick to note that they are merely reviving a tradition started by naked athletes in thefirst Olympic games in Greece.
A private 160-acre campground on the Susquehanna River about two miles outside town will host the games. The park was chosen, in part, for its privacy. Nudists are not exhibitionists, Mr. Pacer said.
To qualify for some of the events, some athletes have already attended preliminary games at nudist camps in Virginia and Pennsylvania. All participants will compete as part of nine or 10 nudist club teams. The winning team will receive a $1,000 prize.
"Enough money," Mr. Pacer said, "to pay for a hot tub or at least a down payment on a hot tub."
While some competitors will approach the games in a "serious manner," the emphasis will be on fun, Mr. Pacer said.
Among other things, the competitors-in-the-buff will swim streamlined, play women's volleyball and run men's track relays.
Less strenuous games include body painting, ping-pong, backgammon, fly-fishing (ouch), cheerleading and a scavenger hunt.
The notion of nude Olympic-type games has apparently stirred the imagination of the clothes-wearing public as well. Organizers are expecting film crews from Japan and Germany to join them as will two-dozen representatives of the news media.
Incidentally, all journalists have been given the option of undressing for the games -- an opportunity to get down to the bare facts, so to speak.
Townspeople say they have already been flooded by calls from outsiders interested in the event. Seeing a bunch of people who like to dress in their birthday suits make Darlington famous is a source of amusement to longtime residents.
"Everybody thinks it's a big kick," said Tom McCurry, owner of a Darlington auto repair shop. "Most people don't have a problem with it. I guess you could say we're pretty laid back up here."
Interestingly, the games fit a trend toward public nudity in Harford County this spring. Earlier this month, a 22-year-old was arrested for streaking during Bel Air High School's commencement exercises. A similar exhibition interrupted the John Carroll High School's May graduation ceremonies.
Still, not everyone seems to find the nude lifestyle amusing.
Eric Washburn, a Cecil County resident, said he received numerous hate calls at work after a local newspaper published an article describing him as "a nudist for many years."
"They [callers] said, 'You're an animal' and 'I think you're sick,' " recalled Mr. Washburn, 51. "It was very upsetting."