Business on Top, Party in the Back: Pa. Kids Go for Gold in National Mullet Contest

Rory Erlich (L), of West Pottsgrove, and Kamden Cunningham (R), of Swoyersville, are finalists in the in the kids category of the USA Mullet Championships. (Photos: Rory Ehrlich, Airen Ehrlich; Kamden Cunningham, Kelsey Cunningham).

By Patrick Berkery

August 4, 2023

With locks that bring to mind the ‘93 Phillies and Billy Ray Cyrus, Rory Ehrlich, of West Pottsgrove, and Kamden Cunningham, of Swoyersville, are on the verge of hair glory.

Several decades after Philadelphia Phillies folk hero John Kruk and Pittsburgh Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr were rocking mullets on the field and on the ice, the business-on-top-party-in-the-back hairstyle is again having its moment in Pennsylvania thanks to a national competition celebrating the coif that went mainstream in the early 90s thanks to Billy Ray Cyrus.

Both 6-year-old Rory Ehrlich, of West Pottsgrove, Montgomery County, and 5-year-old Kamden Cunningham, who lives in Swoyersville, Luzerne County, are among 25 finalists in the kids category of the USA Mullet Championships. The boys are hoping to follow Blair Sugarman of Philadelphia, who was crowned winner in the Femullet category earlier this year, on Pennsylvania’s path to mullet glory.

So how did two boys so young land on a hairstyle that reached peak popularity during Bill Clinton’s first term in office? 

Rory’s mom, Airen Ehrlich, still isn’t entirely certain, though she’s pretty sure it has something to do with her son’s love of baseball.

“We do not know, to this day, where he first saw a mullet,” Ehrlich said. “I think it comes back to the fact that he is a diehard sports fan, especially baseball. Every morning when he wakes up, and every day when he comes home from school, he watches reruns of old games online. We think he saw a game with John Kruk. And Rory just soaks everything in. When he asked for a mullet from the barber, he said ‘How do you know what a mullet is?’”

Rory Ehrlich (Photo: Airen Ehrlich)

Kamden’s mullet was not planned, according to his mom, Kelsey Cunningham. She said it was basically damage control after his two older brothers decided one day to cut Kamden’s hair and butchered his bangs. 

“I had somebody come over to try to fix his hair,” Cunningham said. “She tried fixing it and it just wasn’t looking right. His hair was already long because he basically has a head full of curls. We were showing him different pictures of what he can do with his hair and he ultimately decided on the mullet because you can cut it shorter on top and still keep it long in the back. My husband and I are not fans of the mullet at all. We just thought, ‘This is what we have to get used to.’”

Kevin Begola, who owns a men’s shop in Michigan, started the mullet competition in 2020 as a way to celebrate a hairstyle that’s been kept alive ironically in popular culture through movie characters like David Spade’s “Joe Dirt,” and Danny McBride’s hard-living minor league pitcher Kenny Powers in HBO’s “Eastbound and Down.” 

While participants are judged on the flow of their tops, sides, and backs, they must also raise money for Homes 4 Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit started by former NFL player Jared Allen that builds and remodels accessible, mortgage-free housing for critically injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both boys have grandfathers who served in the US military.

So far, Rory has raised around $1,000, according to his mom, thanks to donations from family, friends, and neighbors. Kamden’s mom said he’s raised around $5,000 to date, with fundraising events set for next Wednesday at the Swoyersville American Legion (from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and Barber Bros. barbershop in Exeter. 

Kamden Cunningham (Photo: Kelsey Cunningham)

Online voting for the final round opens Monday and goes through next Friday, Aug. 11, with $5,000 going to the first place winner, $1,000 for the runner-up, and $500 for third place. Swag, like wraparound sunglasses (which always pair nicely with a mullet) will also be awarded to the winners.

Kamden’s plans for any potential prize money involve purchasing video games, and tickets to watch two non-Pennsylvania sports teams play: the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Chargers, allegiances he picked up from his father, according to Cunningham.

Should Rory’s mullet net him the $5,000 grand prize, his mom said wants to buy his 7-year-old sister, Emma, an alpaca.

“Rory is really close with his older sister, and she’s been saving her money for a while for an alpaca,” Ehrlich said. “He said, ‘Emma, I can win the money to buy you this alpaca.’

“Rory is really all about everybody else, he’s always been that way. But we are still trying to encourage him to buy something for himself if he wins, maybe some baseball stuff. And he says, ‘No, I’m ok.’”

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