Welcome to the world of Marbles, a game that has been played through the ages, a game that your grandparents likely played. By some accounts it has been played for 300 plus generations, and now it is time once again to pass it on to the next generation.
It is also a wonderful way to teach behavioral and sportsmanship skills, and how to interact socially.
But what does it take to get a group started? Where can you go with it once you have a group started? This is an attempt to answer those questions and hopefully many more. It is about the love of a game that is simple on the surface, but for those that commit themselves to it, a game with many subtle nuances. And, in today’s economy, it’s also a game that can be very cheap to play.
1. Selling the idea of a marbles group
A. Finding an Organization to sponsor Marbles Team
Once you have committed to starting a marble group it will be important to find a sponsor for the group. Recreational centers, church youth groups, schools, after school programs, and scout groups are good places to start looking. Schools and teachers are good to bring on board as teachers will find the game to be of benefit for the social skills. Because of the relative cheapness of the game, the sponsor is more important in finding interested players and a location to play than actual financial sponsorship.
Most sports take place in either fall and spring seasons, so it’s generally best to follow the same schedule. Whether or not you choose to have the team meet in the fall is up to you; this will give players more time to practice, but may also conflict with players who play another sport in the fall. Having a spring season is a must if you’re interested in attending the National Marbles Tournament; with the tournament being the week after Fathers Day, your players won’t have had enough practice if the last time they played was in December.
B. Getting Kids to play
With a sponsor and a place to play, it will be time to find the most important element of all in playing the game, and that is the players. While the National Marbles Tournament is for players aged 7 through 14 (the cutoff date for birthdays is the 10th of June) for any given year, marbles can be played by kids of all ages, and play between parents and their children is encouraged. Recruiting player is open to ones imagination, but schools, after school programs, church groups, scouts, town fairs are a good place to start. Indeed, any place open to the public that attracts children is a likely place to advertise and recruit. Recruiting should involve a hand’s on demonstration, including Keeps, Ringer, or any other game that you feel captures the imagination of your recruits. Once you have some players they can be included in the demonstration to show kids playing. Posters in schools and demonstrations in schools is also a good way to attract players.
C. Who is playing at the National Marbles Tournament
When trying to select a sponsor and recruit players it is good to look at what established groups are doing and where they are getting their players. Presently the National Marbles Tournament has groups from 18 locations in the country, from the East Coast to Colorado. Sponsorship breaks down as follows:
5 Recreational Councils
4 After School Organizations
Many of these groups encourage former players to become coaches when their playing days are over. All of the groups encourage current players to do demonstrations for fun and for recruitment.
2. Forming a group and activities.
If the sponsor does not have a place to play, you’ll need to search for one. Many groups will use an indoor room located in a school, recreational building or a church. The floor can be a flat tile, linoleum, wood or short pile carpet. It is best if a marble ring can be marked on the floor, but make sure the owners of the room will allow anything permanent. If permanent markings are not allowed, painters tape can be used as a substitute. Painters tape leaves less of a mark than masking tape. Some groups have their own small carpets that are marked for play and can be laid on any floor. Other groups use outdoor spaces for spring and summer activities. Cement surfaces are recommended, as they are often the flattest, but cement rings require yearly painting in wet climates. The National Marbles Tournament is played of cement rings located on the beach in Wildwood NJ. Established groups often build cement rings outdoors, with funding coming from grants, and donations. Once a location is picked and a group is formed, a time is needed. The time may be dictated by who the group is associated with or by consensus of you the coach, the players and parents.
A. The love of the game
To form a strong team, the love of the game needs to be built upon, and sportsmanship must be practiced. For some this means playing just for fun; not all players are in it for the competition, with many younger players enjoying many different games without worrying about who is winning as each in their own way is winning. Many different marble games can be played, and all center on how to shoot a marble. Most organizations start all of their players in non-competitive groups, with the older and more talented players graduating on to the next competitive level. However, it is the non-competitive player that will form the foundation to your organization. For those wanting to be in a competition, the game played at the Nationals is Ringer.
Sportsmanship is part of the game as well, and many of the groups focus heavily on sportsmanship. One of the earliest ways of determining a champion is seeing sportsmanship develop first. Many of the Nationals Champions were sportsmanship champions at the Nationals years before they won the competition. Some groups will bring only players who they feel can win the sportsmanship title. Sportsmanship is as simple as cheering on their opponents game, shots, wins, or losses, helping to rack the marbles, and remembering to thank the referees for a job well done.
B. Games to play
For those wishing to be in the National Marbles Tournament, the coaches and students will need to be familiar with that official game “Ringer.” Copies of the rules for Ringer can be found elsewhere in the web page, www.NationalMarblesTournament.org. For those with no interest in the Nationals, or for groups that want some variety, there are many good books with different marbles games, so check your bookstore. You will also find many games handed down by word of mouth, so check with older relatives for some ideas. You can also be creative and invent your own!
C. Old marbles
Looking at old marbles is another way to engage the players. Many people have collections of marbles dating back to their youth, or handed down from their grandparents. While many are worth just pennies, a select few can be worth hundreds of dollars.
3. Equipment Needed
One of the biggest advantages to playing marbles is that the materials needed are cheap and easy to obtain.
1. Target Marbles
Target marbles are a requirement. For the game of Ringer 13 glass marbles (Mibs) are needed. The regulation size for the mibs is 5/8ths of an inch in diameter; most marbles you can buy are of this size. Any color is acceptable, though blue is the official color used at the Nationals. Target marbles can be obtained from Marble King of Paden West Virginia (www.marbleking.com). Marble King is a sponsor of the National Marbles Tournament, and the last US manufacture of glass marbles.
Along with the mibs, a shooter is needed for each player. The shooter can be a simple a different colored glass marble. The requirement for the game of Ringer is a marble larger than one half inch in diameter, but no larger than three quarters of an inch in diameter. Often bags of marbles that come with a “shooters” include a marble that is too large to be a shooter. These marbles are known as boulders. Boulders are not allowed in normal game play. Many tournament players use stone marbles (usually agate and are of varying size), but even a standard-sized glass marble is acceptable. The only other rule for shooters is that they shall not be made of metal. Steel ball bearings and such are forbidden in tournament play.
B. The Ring
The most important feature in the surface to be played on is that it be flat. Many rings will have very slight hills and valleys, and these are fine, but avoid them if possible. Ring boundaries and lag lines will need to be marked on your surface. Straight lines also help when learning to aim the shooter marbles.
Marbles do roll, sometimes very fast, so if you have several games going on or if the marbles can go where you will not be able to retrieve them, some form of backstop will be necessary. A wood backstop is used on the rings for the Nationals, but plastic piping, heavy rope, or even garden hose can form your backstops.
Ringer is played on a 10-foot diameter ring, usually set in a 14-foot square to give the players extra room to shoot. Other games can easily be played on smaller rings and on different shaped rings.
C. Racks, Gauges, Knee Pads, Band-Aids
The game of Ringer requires the 13 mibs to be placed into an X in the center of the ring (one in the center, 3 on each side). The distance between mibs is 3 inches. At the Nationals, the mibs are placed in a rack with the correct dimensions. The racks are usually made with two pieces of wood fixed into an X, with 3/4th inch holes every three inches. However, for practice, many players find it easier to mark the location of the mibs on the ring itself.
To ensure that all shooters are proper size, gauges may be needed. Calipers will work, but most players prefer gauges. Gauges can be made from sheet metal or plastic, with the 2 holes drilled or punched one 1/2 inch and the other 3/4 inches in diameter. Punches hold their diminutions better than drill bits. Circle tinplates used for drawing circles are not accurate because they take into account the width of the pencil, and should not be relied on.
Young players sometimes find the playing surface hard of their knees. For those that complain about the hard surface, kneepads can be used.
Heavy play for several days can cause scrapes, scratches, and blisters on the player’s hands, usually the knuckles. Band-aids can be used, tough they may get in the way, so Liquid Skin is more popular among serious players.
At the National Marbles Tournament, play goes on for 4 to 5 hours a day. During this time the sun will be shining, so sunscreen should be used. The trouble with sunscreen is that, when it is applied to the player’s thumb and index finger, it is very slippery and control of the shooter is lost. Avoid getting sunscreen on the shooting thumb and finger. It’s encouraged that someone else applies sunscreen if possible.
4. Entering the National Marbles Tournament
When you feel comfortable with playing marbles and you wish to extend the experience of the players, it is time to come to the National Marbles Tournament. The teams at the Nationals are a welcoming group, and coming to the Nationals should be kept in mind even if you feel you are not ready.
The National Marbles Tournament is an invitational tournament, but they have to know that you’re interested if you’re to be invited! A request for an invitation needs to be made to the Board. The goal of the tournament is to encourage the game of marbles. The Tournament Board is always looking for new areas to join with teams from new states being sought out. Existing groups receive their invitation in March, and the deadline for entry forms are required by June first. Local tournaments are normally played in April and May.
B. Local Tournaments
To qualify for a spot at the Nationals, a team needs to have an advertised tournament, and then a playoff with a championship round. The champions are then eligible for the Nationals.
C. Level of Play
Since it is the champions that are eligible, all players at the National Tournament are champions. Players can return every year until they are 15 years old, and it is inspiring to watch the player’s progress in their skills, both in play and in sportsmanship. For some, winning just one game is a goal satisfied. For others rooting for a new friend becomes part of the tournament. In any given year there are only two National Marbles Tournament champions (One boy, and one girl), but every year many walk away winners.
D Fund Raising
While the game of marbles is cheap, getting to the Nationals will cost some money. Each team is responsible for getting their players to the tournament, as well as paying for the rooms and meals with their own funding, so fund raising takes on some importance. Current groups use Marble Shows, metal scrape recycling, and Yard Sales to help defray the cost of going to the Tournament.
Good luck and we hope to see you at National Marbles Tournament