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Have you lost your marbles?

by Ken Johnston

Old game, new craze!

Marble mania has taken over Riverview Elementary School in Rainy River.

Kids from kindergarten to grade 8 have rediscovered a game that spans many generations; the game of marbles!

It started in early March when grade 2 and 3 teacher Pat Stoyka noticed the kids were getting a bit restless as the seasons changed from winter to spring and there was little to do at recess. She found a few marbles in her desk and introduced the game of "Pot" to Alexander Affleck andCody Jarvis. Shortly thereafter A.J. Pirkl, Tyler McNally and Matt Sharpe were introduced to the game and within a few weeks a large majority of the school was playing it.

The game of Pot involves digging a hole in the ground, establishing a shooting line and then a great deal of accuracy and in some cases luck.

Players stand behind the line and toss their "Shooter" towards the hole (the pot). The closest to the hole gets to go first. They then use a number of techniques to try and get marbles in the hole. Some flick their finger on the marble while others sort of scoop it. If they get a marble in the hole they get to keep shooting. The last one to get a marble in the hole wins the pot; that is if they are playing for keeps.

Some kids prefer to play for fun while others prefer to play for keeps. Most of Stoyka's class said they prefer to play for keeps. Now there is a rule about keeps that is pretty well honoured by most players. Just about everyone has a favourite shooter and tends to stress that when the game is over that they want their shooter back. Most agree to this and will receive another marble from the player's stash in lieu of the shooter.

Kids store their marbles in a number of different ways. Some have plastic containers, some have ziploc bags and others have sparked sewing machines up around the area. Some adults remember the purple Crown Royal bags being very popular when they played the game as carrying cases for their marbles. However those bags are not available anymore so many moms and grandmas have been busy sewing fabric marble bags for the kids.

Outside of the normal rules for Pot the kids have modified the game to create several new games. They also trade marbles like a collectible. Rainy River True Value owner Cory Lindal said he has a hard time keeping marbles in stock. "As fast as I put them on the counter they are gone."

Other stores like Rainy River Drugs and several Baudette businesses have also been swamped with marble players looking to increase their inventory for competition.

In some cases kids have been unable to get marbles when local stores are out of stock and between orders. So kids have written to relatives in far away places or have looked while away over spring break for marbles.

Unique ones tend to garner a great deal of attention when introduced to the local circuit. Stoyka's students said that some of their marbles come from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta, Brandon, Manitoba and Fargo, North Dakota. They can range in price from about $2 to $8.

"It is a fun game and I really like getting different marbles" said Alexander Affleck who was unanimously voted the Marble King of his class. He has won over 80 marbles since he started playing. He takes his game so seriously that one day he was late for school, which Stoyka said is very unlike him. He was late because he had stopped at Rainy River Drugs as they opened to be the first one to buy some new marbles that had just come in.

Both A.J. Pirkl and Tyler McNally said they like to play because they Like to win marbles.

Anyone seeing the playground at Riverview would think they are looking at a lunar landscape. There are craters and lines everywhere and when recess hits the kids swarm out to the marble pits to play. Stoyka said that the kids are also coming back to play after school well into the evening.

While many kids have won marbles, many have also lost their marbles.

A fun and rewarding way to learn Riverview Elementary School teacher Pat Stoyka has taken the popularity of the game of marbles and put it into classroom studies for her pupils.

The students have been learning about the history of marbles, how they are made and some of the terms and different games that are used and played.

History and how they are made Marbles have been around for many thousands of years. However it wasn't until the early part of the 1900s when the marbles used today to play were invented.

Mr. Marvin George of West Virginia gave the following history to the Record via email: "Between the years of 1910 and 1930 glass marbles were either made by hand or manufactured in Clarksburg, WV by a company called AKRO AGATE.

People from Akron, Ohio came to Clarksburg, WV where sand was plentiful, and natural gas was plentiful and cheap. Because they had the patent on a marble making machine, nearly all of the glass marbles were made in Clarksburg. Some encyclopedias used to refer to Clarksburg as the marble capitol of the world. In the early 30's others were able to make machines that did not infringe on the original patent.

Prior to that era, George said that marble players relied on marbles that were baked crockery. Hence the term many people remember from their childhood as a reference to the big marbles called "Crocks."

Another common term for marbles was Alleys. George thinks that came from another West Virginia source. He said that many years ago there was a factory in West Virginia by the name of Alley and thinks that could be where the other name of Alleys came from.


Besides Crocks and Alleys, there are many different terms used by players:

Beauty: A beautiful marble

Cat's Eye: A clear marble with a twisted strand of colour in the center

Clearie: A see-through, clear marble

Lag: A way to decide who goes first.

Mibs: The rest of the marbles used in a game besides the taw or shooter.

Shoot: Aim a marble and flick it forward with your thumb and finger.

Taw/Shooter: The marble used to begin a game, almost always bigger than the rest of the marbles in the game.

Other games

There are several types of marble games which require different skills. There is the chase, the hole and the ring (box or triangle) With every region there are variations of these three types of marble games.

One of the chase games that I have heard about was called POISON. A large marble is placed in the dirt so that only half of it is showing. Players start some distance from the MARBLE. You can hit a players shooter away so that they can't hit the MARBLE. When a player hits the MARBLE, he becomes poison. The next time he hits a player's shooter, that player is eliminated from the game. The person who is left after all others are eliminated, gets the ante.

The British game is the circle. Players try to knock marbles out of the ring while keeping their shooter inside the ring to get another shot. The French must want to be different because they use a triangle.

Players must designate the target they will knock out of the triangle. But if the shooter stays inside the triangle the target marble is returned to its spot and the player starts over.

In Kentucky/Tennessee there is a game called roley hole. The court is clay and measures about 20 feet by 40 feet. Three holes about the size of a quarter are placed about 10 feet apart. A two person team tries to "make" these holes three times before they can go out. Both teams start with the middle hole. Players take turns shooting. The strategy is similar to croquet. If you hit an opponents shooter you get another turn. If you "make" a hole you get a turn. A good player can control a hole by knocking opponents away from the hole he is guarding.

Through teamwork each player on a team is able to get to the three holes in order and finish first. In this region a roof is built over the court so that play can be conducted in all weather. Many of the businesses maintain roley hole courts at their workplace so that men can play roley hole at lunch. The kids get to play marbles when the adults finish their games.

Old marble shooters talk about "baseball." Tomato paste cans were used to make holes. Cans were placed in the ground, with their tops level with the ground in a diamond shape, resembling a baseball diamond. The player who was able to make all four cans would score.

Americans modified the British game and called it ringer. In the late teens and early twenties the game of marbles was so popular that cities like Washington, DC and Philadelphia had city champs. There was such rivalries that Macys started a marble tournament which was called the National Marble Tournament. This tournament has been played over the years and is still conducted in Wildwood, NJ. It started as a search for the very best shooter and still has this as their theme. In ringer two players attempt to knock marbles out of a ring.

Value of the game George said that in his part of the world teachers and principals see the following learning experiences that can be gained from playing the game:

Winning, losing, socializing, developing hand/eye coordinations and developing reasoning skills in determining the best shots.