Players gather for national finals

Has anyone ever told you to "knuckle down" when they wanted you to concentrate? That expression comes from playing marbles. So does "playing for keeps" and "losing your marbles."

Every child sharpshooter in next week's National Marbles Tournament (June 18-21) in Wildwood, N.J., knows how important it is to knuckle down (keep at least one knuckle on the ground) when playing Ringer, the tournament's official game. Referees watch carefully for infractions.

Participants must be between 7 and 14 years old, but there are no age divisions. A 9-year-old may go head-to-head with a teenager - and come out on top.

Each year, a new boy and girl champion are crowned. Each receives a trophy and a $2,000 college scholarship. Once you've won, though, you can't compete again.

The four-day tournament is small: Only 65 children will compete next week. Hundreds of thousands play in local qualifying contests.

The best players often have coaches, many of whom are former marble champions. Debra Stanley-Lapic of Reading, Pa., won "all the marbles" in 1973. She then coached her niece, Brenda Schwartz, who won the girls' title in 1980. Brenda was 9.

The tournament begins as a round robin. Two contestants play a best-of-15-games final. Games are played on cement marble rings set on the beach. Games may last 2 minutes.

How to play along with champions

"Ringer" is the official game of the National Marbles Tournament that gets under way in Wildwood, N.J., on June 18. Here's a summary of the rules:

The object of Ringer is to hit marbles out of a ring that is 10 feet across. Thirteen marbles ("ducks") are carefully arranged on a cross in the center of the ring. They are spaced three inches apart, with one marble in the middle.

Players "lag" to see who will shoot first. They roll marbles toward a line. Whoever comes closest to the line goes first.

Players take turns using their shooter marbles to knock marbles out of the ring. The first shot is taken from the ring's edge. Subsequent shots can be taken from where the shooter stops inside the ring. (If you miss, though, and your opponent knocks your shooter out of the ring, he gets all the marbles you've knocked out of the ring, too.)

Players keep shooting until they miss. The first person to score seven marbles wins.

The official way to shoot involves cupping the hand and resting the marble on the curved index finger. The thumb is placed behind the marble. At least one knuckle must rest on the ground. The thumb is flicked to shoot the marble. If that's too hard at first, though, try rolling the marbles or flicking them with a finger.

For more information:

"Marbles: 101 Ways to Play," by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson (Morrow Junior Books, 1998).

"Marbles: A Player's Guide," by Shar Levine and Vicki Scudamore (Sterling, 1998).

For the complete, official rules of Ringer, see: blocksite. com/wildwood/Ringer.htm.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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