- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Shooting marbles can be serious business, especially when a world record is at stake.

More than 640 mibsters, or marble shooters, played simultaneously at a tournament in New York last week, breaking the previous record in the Guinness Book of Records for 569 persons playing at one time.

That means more than 8,000 marbles were rolling in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the concrete slabs on the beach in Wildwood, N.J., are filled with about 80 of the country's best young mibsters, who are competing in the National Marbles Tournament today through Thursday.

While national toy chains like FAO Schwarz said they have not seen increased marble sales, people interested in the game said it appears to be enjoying a revival. Chicago is one of the areas with the greatest demand for marbles, according to one of the game's biggest producers, Marble King.

"There's still a big niche out there for kids to play," said marbles coach Jeff Kimmell. "Marbles missed a couple of generations, but there's a resurgence."

The game of marbles dates back to ancient Rome, where players drew circles in the dirt, placed several rounded pieces of glass inside its perimeter, then lobbed another piece of glass toward the globes in an effort to hit at least one.

Older adults may remember playing other children for their cat's eyes, puries and clearies on sidewalks and playgrounds before marbles lost popularity to newer toys and games.

Today, in a high-speed world of video games and organized sports, the game of marbles attracts players for different reasons.

"I think kids like low-tech stuff," said Carole Segal, owner of Tree Top Toys and Books in Washington, D.C. "It lets them be themselves and use their imaginations. Anything that's round and rolls, you can make a great game out of."

Mr. Kimmell, who lives in Frederick, Md., says the number of marble players slumped in the 1970s and '80s as technology developed.

"When the Pac-Man era came out, they forgot about the sport of marbles," said Mr. Kimmell, the 1981 national marble champion. "Kids love the game."

Mr. Kimmell credits the resurgence to greater awareness about the game. In April, his dream team of 10 American mibsters won the International Cup played in England.

He hopes the interest that the tournament drew will get him closer to having a marbles demonstration at the 2004 Olympics in Greece.

After the April tournament, Mr. Kimmell said, he received phone calls from people across the country wanting more information about the game.

Information is available from two companies that sponsored a marble demonstration and tournament in Brooklyn several weeks ago: Marble King, based in Paden City, W.Va., and Urban Glass, based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A Web site, www.marbles.net, provides information about tournaments, links to marble makers, collectors, displays and champions. "Marble shooting," it says, "is a low-cost, high-benefit game that is open to nearly everyone." It also lists rules for one of the most popular forms of the game.

"Ringer" is played on a cement circle 10 feet in diameter. Players determine who shoots first by pitching their marbles toward the lag line, a stripe on the opposite side of the circle. Whoever is closest opens the game.

The game begins with 13 marbles in the shape of an X in the center, and players try to shoot marbles out of the circle. The first player to shoot out seven marbles wins.

These rules also are posted on another Web site dedicated to the National Marbles Tournament, www.blocksite.com/wildwood, as well as other sites.

The game's accessibility may be one of its biggest attractions. Unlike football or basketball, where players' size can determine their success, marbles is an equal-opportunity sport.

"It's something that anyone can do," said Beri Fox, business manager of Marble King. "It doesn't matter if your thumb is bigger than mine. That doesn't mean you can shoot farther."

Miss Fox said groups like the YMCA, YWCA and Cub Scouts have used marble programs to build skills and provide an activity in which many children can participate.

Schools have offered marble games to students because the equipment is inexpensive generally less than $500 for all the components compared with other sports equipment.

Competitors in the National Marble Tournament had to qualify in local or regional tournaments to compete in the event in Wildwood, home to the tournament since 1920. Each of the more than 80 entrants competes against all the others. Semifinal and final competitions are set by players' records.

Mr. Kimmell, who has coached several national champions within the past few years, said the atmosphere can be serious.

"You'd be amazed by the quality of shooting and the intensity of the kids," he said.

The winner receives a scholarship, a trophy, induction into the National Marbles Hall of Fame and a trip to the next tournament.

Children up to 14 years old can compete. Past winners are ineligible for competition.

Serious marble players older than 14 can compete in a tournament that Mr. Kimmell calls the "masters of marbles."

The Mason Cup, played each August in Middletown, Md., brings together players from early teens to 70s. The tournament is named after Gene Mason, the longtime director of the National Marble Tournament.

David Winkelman is a Mason Cup committee member. His daughter, Megan, was the national champion in 1997, when she was 12 years old.

"Once you get hooked on the marble bug, you just keep going," Mr. Winkelman said. "It's a skill. Everyone who has ever played it calls it a sport."

Many of the U.S. marble tournaments, as well as players, are on the East Coast, but Miss Fox said players from across the country will play in the tournament this year.

The bags of *-inch glass globes can be either a diversion or a competitive sport. "If you give a little kid a bag of marbles, they're pretty fascinated, but they don't know how to play," Mr. Kimmell said.

With growing awareness of the game in the country, that may not be an excuse for long.

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