I Will Take All the Marbles

Glenn CardSenior Analyst IMarch 23, 2009

ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 5:  A Greece national player hoists the Cup during the victory celebrations at Panathenaic marble stadium on July 5, 2004 in Athens, Greece. Thousands of Greeks welcomed home the national soccer team in Athens on Monday.  (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

We had some athletic activity choices for our grade school recess period, but not much. There was kickball (early Americanized soccer), tether ball, tag, swings, and seasonal touch football games.

There is one other sport that is not as popular today as when I was a kid. The main sports equipment for the game is probably not allowed in a lot of schools anymore because they could be used as projectiles.

I’m talking about marbles.

Your daily activity was dependent upon your dalliance with lunch. If you knew that a strong kick ball game was in the plans, then you ate on the fly to get outside to the playground.

Teams were picked early and the game ran until the bell rang.

Tether ball was a bit different as you usually had this planned out with the school buds you were eating lunch with. Still, there were no guarantees that you could walk right outside and play.

The tether ball apparatus is really simple. It consists of a pole approximately five to six feet tall anchored at one end either permanently in concrete, or mobile by being concreted to a automobile wheel and tire. To the top of the pole you would have a rope tied and the other end of the rope would be attached to a ball much like a volley ball.

The game is between two players with the object of the game to hit the ball past the opposing player to wrap the rope around the pole so many times until the ball comes in contact with the pole. Of course one player is trying to wrap the pole clockwise while the other is attempting to wrap it counter clockwise.

The point here is that every school had its semi-pro tether ball players who you would have to challenge and win before you could play with your buds. More times than not you and everybody else would end up playing against this one guy all recess long.

Tag was a hit or miss game.

It really depended on whether or not I felt like running my ass off all recess or not.

The swings were pretty much where the girls hung out. Unless you were sweet on someone, then as a boy you usually weren’t welcome.

Romance was encouraged, but loitering was not.

The football games were seasonal because early in the year during the fall that was what was on television for sports so that’s what we played.

Usually two things brought about the end of its option as an activity. One, the season ended. Two, somebody invariably would get injured severely enough for a parent to complain and the footballs would be confiscated.

When all other outdoor activities were exhausted there was still marbles.

Every kid I knew had a bag of marbles. You could have a pick up game anywhere, anytime.

Marbles is a game of skill, power, finesse and strategy. But only requires the ability to hold and flick a marble out of your hand with a thumb.

You could be deathly ill with multiple broken bones and still be able to play marbles. About the only thing that could prevent you from playing would be if you had broken both of your thumbs.

Every kid carried or had close to hand his little bag of jewels—his marbles.

The styles of marbles were like an assortment of jewels. The names were as varied as well and everybody had their favorites. There were Shooters, Cat eyes, Boulders, Pee-wees, Aggies, Galaxies and my all-time favorite, Steelies.

My dad was a mechanic and a good sized ball bearing was a Steely. So, I always had access to those little gems just for the asking.

The variations in the game were only limited to the imaginations of youth.

You could shoot for distance or precision. There are games of power and of skill.

As long as you had room to shoot and keep track of your marble, you had a playing field.

Usually the game would have some component which required you to try to hit your opponent’s marble with yours. That’s why I preferred the Steely.

I would be shooting with power and looking for a marble chip with a hit. Sometimes you could split a marble and, on that rare occurrence, you could shatter a marble putting that player instantly out of the game.

The one constant in the game was whoever won the game got to keep all the marbles that were used in the game. The games usually ended with a bargaining period where the losers would dip into there bags to barter for the return of their favorite marble that might have been lost in the game.

Yes it was a kid’s game and we didn’t continue those games after grade school. High school was for real football, basketball, or baseball. That or hanging out by the swings.

So a favorite sport is lost to maturity.

You might say that marbles doesn’t qualify as a sport, but I would disagree.

First I’d point out that somehow golf and bowling qualify as sports—why not marbles? Sure the rules are a little ambiguous but then again, I can’t understand half of the rules for golf.

It has all the components you find from other sports. Skill, strategy, ability, and sometimes luck. But the end results is someone stands triumphant.

It saddens me that kids don’t play marbles anymore. Part of it may be that they could in an odd way be considered as weapons or we don’t allow kids unstructured free time anymore.

It makes me wish that, as a kid, we would’ve had the foresight to log our competitions back when I was in Bayville Grade School. The stats I must have compiled.

I may not have been the greatest marble man but I was easily the Hank Aaron or Joe Namath of marbles.

There’s a tree in that school yard that has my name carved into it.

And you know what?

I can still take all your marbles.


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