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Marbles Coach Teaches Values

Denver Post

Claire Martin
August 26, 2007

Mesa County coach and former elementary schoolteacher Leah Piquette Lee creates champions - schoolchildren who win state and national marble-shooting tournaments. Her fondness for the 3,000-year-old game dates back to her own girlhood, when her father, Jerry Piquette, taught her to play the game. More than a dozen of her protégés have gone on to the national competition, most recently 13-year-old Nick Anderson, who won the youth division of the 2007 National Marbles Tournament earlier this summer in New Jersey. Lee is proud of him, but even prouder that Anderson also won the best sportsmanship award.

How do you teach sportsmanship?

We make a big deal about behavior. We require that our players be good sports in order to go to competitions. Otherwise, even if they're a good shooter, they can't go. We tell them, "First, use self-control. And encourage your opponent, so the person you're playing enjoys the game."

How do they do that?

Before the game, instead of saying "Good luck," they'll say, "I'm excited to play you," or "I've been watching you play, and you're a good shooter." We tell them, "Look at your opponent's face and smile." They thank the referees after a game, and their behavior between games has to be exemplary.

How did you get interested in marbles tournaments?

Well, in 1996, before I had children, I was a fifth-grade teacher and taught American history. I taught my class about old playground games, and that really got a lot of attention. They loved marbles. Their grandparents heard about it and told me about playing in marbles competitions. My father, who has a collection of 100,000 marbles, nearly ...

HOW many marbles?

Nearly 100,000. It was 90-some thousand, last time he counted them. Well, he learned there still is a national marbles tournament, and that Colorado hadn't played in 50 years. So we got some information, and we went the next year, 1997, with our first competitor - and he actually won the national sportsmanship award that year. Four years later, he won the national championship. We haven't looked back since.

How do children qualify for competition?

Well, I always start out by saying, "This is for fun, and if you're not having fun, don't play. That's not what marbles is about." Then it's up to them if they like it enough to move on. For a qualifying tournament, you have to be a good sport, and it helps to hit the most marbles out during the competition. From that point afterward, they don't have to practice a single day. I do tell the kids who want to go to nationals that they're required to practice daily, enough to hit half their shots.

How much time is that?

Probably three or four hours a day. Once they get to nationals, they think it's great fun, and they want to practice.

Are people surprised to find out that you coach a marbles team? Most people here are surprised that the kids are even playing marbles. Most adults don't know how to play. The grandparents love it, though.


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