What began as a friendly competition a few years ago has blossomed into a budding rivalry in what has become one of Waldo County’s signature athletic fundraising efforts — and it is only a few days away.

On Sunday, May 19 at 1 p.m., the Maine Warden Service will square off in a charity softball game at Walsh Field against a collection of Belfast Area High School baseball and softball senior athletes.

This year’s contest will be the third time in four years the sides have squared off, with the MWS being unable to participate in 2017.

The game is the brainchild of BAHS softball coach Chris Bartlett and warden Chris Simmons, which originated around the Simmons family dinner table when Anna Simmons — the daughter of Chris Simmons and then softball player for Bartlett — threw out the notion that her softball team could beat a collection of wardens in a softball game.

“They kind of challenged each other,” said game warden Josh Beal, who also is a 2010 BAHS graduate. “The wardens versus the softball team. And we played that game and we were surprised at the turnout we had at the field. So we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we turn this into a charity thing.’ ”

And, like that, the game was born.

Proceeds from the game will go to Make-A-Wish Maine and Operation Game Thief, both of which are non-profit organizations.

Beal said the game warden team will consist of game wardens, along with various female members of the game warden’s families, such as daughters and wives.

“It’s a great time for a great cause,” he said.

Clips from the original softball game between the teams can be seen on a past episode of North Woods Law, a television show that showed the day-to-day lives of Maine game wardens.

“At the time North Woods Law TV show was a hit and they filmed it and aired some of it,” said Bartlett. “At the end we thought maybe it could be a charity game.”

The show featured Maine game wardens for five years and seven seasons before the show moved to New Hampshire in 2017 and now focuses on New Hampshire game wardens.

Bartlett said last year’s game raised nearly $8,000, but “this year we wanted to go bigger.”

“We set a goal of $10,000 and started hitting up sponsors and organizing in February,” said Bartlett. “When we hit the $16,000 mark we reset our goal to $20,000. I feel this game could get really big and we feel we can hit our goal or surpass $20,000.”

Beal said it is $7,000 for Make-A-Wish Maine to be able to grant a wish for prospective youngsters, thus, they hope to raise north of $28,000 to be able to grant two wishes.

“With my involvement with the Lobster Bowl, I saw first hand what charities like that do and how much they help kids,” said Bartlett. “If people don't know Chris [Simmons, Josh, [2004 BAHS graduate and game warden] Aaron [Cross] or myself, we are all about kids.”

The game has an emcee in local game warden Chris Dyer, food, various raffles and a “jail and bail,” which has become a big hit and money maker for the event.

In short, when players make an error in the field, or strikeout — or sometimes, simply for the enjoyment of the fans — a uniformed game warden will walk onto the field and handcuff the guilty party and put them in “jail,” while those in attendance have to come up with the money to make “bail.”

“It got to the point last year where people were paying to put people in jail,” said Beal. “That was kind of fun.”

Bartlett said the event raised roughly $1,000 simply from the “jail and bail” at last year’s game.

Beal said a few of the items up for auction include a $50 Cabela's gift card along with roughly $500 worth of Cabela's merchandise, a four-person, two-night white water rafting trip from Northern Outdoors, tickets to the Portland Sea Dogs, Maine lifetime hunting/fishing licenses and other various items from local businesses.

He added Chris Simmons has networked with other game wardens around the country and other such games now are being played as far away as Georgia.

And, that extra legwork has helped spawn a second game, which will be new to Maine this year as the Maine game wardens will take on the New Hampshire game wardens in a “North Woods Showdown” on Saturday, Aug. 3 at Hadlock Field — home of the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate Portland Sea Dogs — in Portland.

But, for now, the focus is on Sunday’s Waldo County game, with many fundraising dollars left to be raised and bragging rights to be doled out.

“It’s a great event,” said Beal. "It’s really cool that it’s in our hometown [and] it’s a cool thing to see. The community gets to see a different aspect of the game wardens."