Marbles enthusiasts hope to start local team

April 29, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

Willie Clark sat on his knees, leaned over the thin carpet remnant and flicked his thumb, launching a gray agate marble past some smaller blue ones.

Willie, 6, was making his first move in his first game of marbles in his first marbles tournament.

He had been taught to play moments earlier by 2001 National Marbles Champion Tim Ratliff, whose father led the tournament Saturday afternoon at the YMCA on Eastern Boulevard North.

"I like teaching everybody to play marbles," said Tim, 14, of Smithsburg.

Tim is assistant coach for The Knucklers, a Frederick County, Md., marbles team.

Tim's father, Jerry Ratliff, is trying to put together a Washington County marbles team.

He's held two demonstrations in local elementary schools and hosted some games in his garage.

Six boys participated in Saturday's tournament, which was attended by Gene Mason, director of the National Marbles Tournament.

Jonathan Hulse, 14, of Hagerstown, won Saturday's tournament.


In one game against his brother, Jonathan knocked out seven marbles in one turn to win.

Knucklers Coach Jeff Kimmell, who helped teach Tim to play, said Jonathan could be a serious contender at the National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, N.J., in June.

Jonathan likes the strategy of each shot.

"We just have a different shot each time so you have to practice," he said.

His brother, Jeremy, 13, learned to play this year because Jonathan was looking for someone to play against. Jeremy's friends Daniel Sprankle, 13, of Hagerstown, and Kevin Tyler, 13, of Hagerstown, joined him at Saturday's tournament.

Like Willie, Daniel and Kevin were newcomers to the sport. They showed up with some experience because they had been playing with Jeremy.

Tim gave Willie plenty of tips and encouragement before the tournament began.

"You always want to curl your hand over when you shoot," Tim told Willie. "It takes a lot of practice. It took me at least a month to get it."

Willie shot one of the blue marbles, or "commies," out of the ring during practice before losing his first game to Daniel.

After two games, Willie took a break and sat down on a folding chair to be interviewed.

He was a man of few words and, like his game, quick and to the point.

He had fun. It was hard at first, but he's eager to learn. He wanted to go home and practice.

Youths ages 7 to 14 who are interested in learning to play marbles and start a team can call Jerry Ratliff at 301-824-3906.

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