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Local Children Aiming For The Title In Marbles Competitions


Penn-Trafford Star

Michael Cristiano

April 9, 2009


When it comes to marbles, it's all in the family.

Many of those participating in Allegheny County's annual marbles program credit family members with getting them into knuckling down and flicking their marbles in the hopes of becoming the national champion.

This spring, children and youths ages 14 and younger can compete at 15 locations throughout Allegheny County, including Boyce Park and Word of God School in Swissvale, for the chance to enter the Allegheny County Marbles Tournament in late May.


County winners are eligible to compete in the 86th National Marbles Championship in Wildwood, N.J.

For the past five years, players from Allegheny County have been crowned national champion. Last year, both the boys and girls champions hailed from Allegheny County.

This year, local participants hope to continue that winning trend.

"I'm going to try," says Ben Furman, 13, of Swissvale. "I practice every day."

Ben, a student at Word of God School, says he first learned to play marbles from his uncle.

"He bought me my first bag of marbles," Ben says.

The marbles program harkens back to a family connection when the county had to take it over from the city of Pittsburgh, which was having financial problems.

Ed Ricci, 43, of Shaler says his grandpa, Walt Lease, a worker in the county parks department, was instrumental in getting the county to adopt the marbles program after the city abandoned it in 1974.

"He went to Tom Foerster (then a county commissioner) and asked him to help the program out," Ricci says. "The county has sponsored it ever since."

Prior to the county taking over the marbles program, the city ran it in the Bloomfield and Hill District neighborhoods, according to Ricci.

Marbles have run in the Ricci family for four generations and culminated with his daughter, Amber, becoming girls national champion in Wildwood last year.

Even Ricci's 4-year-old daughter, Sierra, has gotten involved and rolls marbles across the floor.

Ricci is taking over more of the clinics being sponsored all over the county with the help of his wife, Maureen, who also is helping to organize them.

"It's all in the family," Ed Ricci says. "It's been given forward from parent to child.

"My mom has pictures of me in diapers, playing marbles," he says with a laugh.

The origins of the game of marbles have been traced to ancient Rome, where it's referenced in literature, and ancient Egypt, where explorers have found the spheres in the Great Pyramids.

There are hundreds of different ways to play the game of marbles, which is as varied from country to country as is the myriad of marble colors and designs, ranging from tiger's eye to agate.

In U.S. competition, the game that's the standard is Ringer, in which contestants take turns trying to knock at least seven of 13 marbles -- arranged in an X, in a 10-foot circle -- out of the ring.

Placing their hands, knuckles down, on the floor, players square themselves to their targets, and, using their index fingers for position, flick their marbles at their targets using the end of their thumb.

Much like pool -- marbles sometimes is called "knuckle pool" -- the objective is to use a shooter marble to knock out as many other marbles, or mibs, as possible. Seven marbles knocked out in a row is a "stick" and a complete victory.

Amber, now 13, got 10 sticks in a row last year in the championships.

"It feels great," she says. "It's something different that I can do."

Although she can't compete in Wildwood this year because previous champions cannot come back, she still plans to attend the U.S. National Marbles Championship held at North Park in August. Unlike the competition in Wildwood, that one also includes adults.

Amber emerged with her national win last year from among 27 contestants, who hail from areas such as Colorado and Tennessee.

She still keeps in touch with a lot of them.

"Especially with instant messaging and online resources," her father says.

And that's part of the appeal for the local marble players -- hoping to get a chance at the big prize.

"It's fun to do ... just getting to play with other people," says Haley Alder, 13, of Swissvale, whose aunt taught her to play. "Getting to interact with people."


Participants shoot for local, national titles

The Allegheny County 2009 Marbles Program is free to all children ages 14 and younger.

All local champions are qualified to enter the Allegheny County Championship from May 28 to 30 in the Allegheny County Courthouse Courtyard, 436 Grant St., Pittsburgh.

County winners qualify to enter the National Marbles Championship.

National championship

Champions selected from local tournaments held in cities and counties around the United States will converge for the National Marbles Championship competition from June 21 to 25 in Wildwood, N.J.

The marbles players, or mibsters, will play more than 1,200 games during the tournament.

The mibsters will compete not only for national honors but also college scholarships and numerous prizes and awards.

The National Marbles Tournament first was held in 1922.

Here are places that mibsters and can go for free local marbles clinics and competitions:

Boyce Park -- Four Seasons Ski Lodge, Centerview Drive, Pittsburgh.

Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m.; Monday, 3 to 5 p.m.

For more information, call 412-271-3110.

• Word of God School, 7436 McClure Road, Swissvale.

Tuesday through April 17, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information, call 412-371-8587.

Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, festival grounds at the entrance to Schenley Park in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

May 13 through May 17, Wednesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, call 412-471-6070.


Champions from Allegheny County

The Allegheny County region is not lagging behind in marbles champions.

Last year was the fifth consecutive year that winners of the National Marbles Championship were from Allegheny County and the first time in 33 years that both the boys and girls national champions were from the same area.

The previous time it occurred, both winners were from Allegheny County, as well.

• National champions in 2008 were John Leffakis, boys, and Amber Ricci, girls -- with their plaques at the tournament, at left, from left.

• Alexandra Bauer of Bloomfield was girls national champion in 2007.

• Keith Moss of the South Side was boys national champion in 2006.

• Jamie Miller of the South Side was boys national champion in 2005.

• Carly Miller of the South Side, Jamie's cousin, was girls national champion in 2004.


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