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Marbles hotbed in search of rings

July 07, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - Although there is only grass now in front of the far pavilion at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park, Jeff Kimmell said he already can envision four new marble-shooting rings there.

A longtime coach and marbles champ, Kimmell is leading the charge to install the rings. After all, the last three boys' national marbles champions hail from Washington County.

They and any other young people interested in the burgeoning sport must journey to Middletown High School in Frederick County, Md., to practice and compete or set up in area churches and schools like Greenbrier Elementary School, since there are no rings in Washington County.

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"If we had rings here, we could train more national champions because it would be easier to recruit," Kimmell said. "And it would be great for tourism in Washington County."

In June, Jeremy Hulse brought home the title of boys' national marbles champion.

A Smithsburg High School student, Hulse, 14, took the honors in a close match on June 19 in Wildwood, N.J. His brother, 15-year-old Jonathan Hulse, won the championship last year. In 2001, Tim Ratliff, also of Smithsburg, swept away his opponents.

Randi Hulse, mother of the last two national champions from Washington County, said some parents are unable to travel the distances necessary for their sons and daughters to practice and compete.

She said Kimmell carries special carpeting with him so he can keep practice times and locations as mobile as possible.

Kimmell, who won the national championship in 1981 from his hometown of Cumberland, Md., said he knows how it feels to be the best at something and he has worked hard to see that others get to have the experience.

"We have gotten permission from Jim Sterling of the Washington County Parks Department. Now all we have to do is find the money," Kimmell said.

He estimates that each of four 14-foot-by-14-foot smooth and level concrete pads, complete with painted circles, would cost about $700. But if materials and labor were donated, that cost could be reduced significantly, Kimmell said.

"We are looking to hook up with a concrete company that would donate what's left in a truck after a job," Kimmell said.

The tournament, held in Wildwood every year since 1960, pits marbles players ages 10 to 14 against one another in a friendly but spirited competition.

"I first got into marbles through Tim, who is my best friend," Jonathan Hulse said. "Tim invited me to a marbles tournament and promised me food and basketball, so I went. I was never into marbles before."

Ratliff was in Boy Scouts working on his marbles badge when his counselor saw an advertisement in the newspaper about competitive marbles.

As for Jeremy Hulse, by the time he was old enough he had been involved through his entire family. While the pressure was on at this year's tournament, Jeremy said it was "really cool."

Kimmell estimated it takes years and 3,000 to 4,000 hours of practice to develop a marbles player good enough to compete in the national tournament. He has coached 10 of the last 11 national champions.

Anyone wanting information about marbles or how to make donations for the new rings can call Kimmell at 301-663-0313 or the Hulse family at 301-824-1168.

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