(bright music) – In the game, these are the points. (bright music) And the bigger marbles are shooters. – If I’m doin’ bad with one of these, it’s always that, the brown one, because well, I can’t
miss with the brown one. (bright music) – I hold it like this,
and I just flick my thumb. – [Interviewer] Is that your lucky marble? Has it been lucky? – Yeah. – [Interviewer] Do you have
your own set of marbles that you practice with?
– Me and my brother share. (bright music) – Yeah, I like the little ones because of how they reflect on your face. (bright music) – Yeet! – All you have to do, you just shoot. – I put my marble on my knuckle. I just shoot! (bright music) – [Narrator] It’s an early summer morning on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey. Soon, the sands just beyond the boardwalk will be taken over by
a vigorous competition. A battle for bragging
rights that have for decades been claimed by children
from the Pittsburgh area. A band of these young competitors has journeyed here, and they’re ready. (intense music) But to understand their story,
we have to travel many miles and many days backward to Pittsburgh to a small space, tucked
under the Bluefield Bridge. – It’s always a battle to
try and fill the holes. The kids are shootin’ marbles. If it’s just a little divet, a marble might go this way or that way. (bright music) – [Narrator] Later today,
children and their coaches will gather here to practice marbles. (bright music) – [Man] Good, hard shot
though, that’s what ya wanted. That’s better than the last one. – [Narrator] They will fold
themselves onto the ring. Place a marble between thumb
and forefinger and push. – [Man] Good shot. – [Narrator] Over and over again. (people chattering)
(bright music) This game and versions
of it go back decades. – This is the way they used to play it. – [Narrator] Before there
were official tournaments and coaches, there were neighborhood games that started with a circle
scratched into the dirt and a bag of marbles. – This is a cat’s eye marble. A target marble made out of glass. A flint, which is a
little bit lighter stone. An agate, which we prefer to shoot with, and this is a swirly.
(peaceful music) In the ’20s, ’30s,
especially Depression time, a bag of marbles was about
all they could afford, so the kids used to play each other and if I knocked your marbles
out, I got to keep ’em. And if the other kid
knocked mine out, well, they got to keep mine. – [Narrator] Ed Ricci learned to play while growing up on the South side. – My grandfather was Walt Lease. He got started with marbles
when he got out of the service, got a city parks job,
and he started to learn how to shoot marbles and
he wanted to show the kids. – [Narrator] And show them, he did, pulling generations of
children into the game and making the Pittsburgh
area a powerhouse. Compared to other games and sports, the marbles community here
is small, but it’s mighty. Since the National
Tournament began in 1922, Pittsburgh area kids
have won it all 33 times, including 14 times since 2004. – Nice job!
(kids cheer) – [Narrator] You can trace the success back to the fourth and
fifth grade classrooms where Ed Ricci and other coaches are introducing a new
generation to the game through a program long
supported by Allegheny County. – Now your first shot, when
you take your first shot, has to be taken from outside the circle. – Like this.
– In the ring, like that. – [Narrator] The game is called Ringer, and it’s played by two
opponents in a 10 foot ring. The object of the game
is to be the first player to hit seven marbles out of the ring. – [Boy] You take your finger
and you have to shoot it at the rack of 13 marbles. – [Narrator] Shooter marbles
are about three quarters of an inch in diameter. The target marbles,
called mibs, are smaller. – [Man] Now if you hit a
marble and your shooter stays inside the 10
foot ring, you get to go until you miss. Once you miss, it’s your opponent’s turn. It’s about putting the
right amount of spin and setting yourself up for the next shot to kind of hit and go on a run and hit those seven marbles out. – [Narrator] Just like in
baseball, when both players have a turn, it’s called an inning. In competition, most games
last three innings or more. – Left handed!
– Along with the rules of the game, the students
are learning a different way to use their thumbs, not
for texting or video games, but for something slower and low-tech. – They’re really good with
using and manipulating their fingers, and this, you
really have to have that art with how to really flick those balls and get them to knock off
and earn those points. (kids cheer) It’s almost like bringing
this lost art back. – Yeet-yeet, yeet.
– No, stop it! – You done went, oh!
– Oh, Marcus wins! – [Boy] Marbles is old school. – [Interviewer] What skills
do you think you bring that allowed you to win today? – Definitely strategy and confidence. – Okay, Nico.
– The kids who seem to be getting the hang of it here get an invitation.
– One, and you shoot again. – I’ve been qualified in the Allegheny County Marbles
Championship Tournament, and the winners of the county tournament, two boys and two girls, will receive an all-expense
paid trip to Wildwood by the sea, New Jersey, to compete in the 96th National Marbles Tournament. – [Narrator] Nico didn’t
go to the county tournament because he had a spelling
bee that weekend. But lots of other kids did go. – Devion and Keymon are playing first. – [Narrator] For three days in May, the marbles world moves into the shadow of the
Allegheny County Courthouse. – Fly it. ‘Cause now you know you’re gonna lift. So lift it and shoot it. (upbeat music) There you go. – [Narrator] The coaching happens between the games, but not during them. Once they step onto the ring, the players are on their own. – Feeling pretty excited,
just can’t get mad when I lose ’cause that
just sets you back. – So Gavin, you did great today, and if you win all your games tomorrow, then you’ll be in the top
eight boys on Saturday. – Okay.
– Among the leaders are Brian Lemon and Gavin Held who were champions here last year. They’re struggling a bit with injuries. – Does it hurt?
– Marbles actually is– – A little.
– Yes, there are injuries in marbles.
– Yes, my blister does hurt a lot. When I shoot. – [Narrator] By day two, some newcomers had pushed to the top. – [Sarah] I already played all my games. – [Narrator] Including Sarah Granesco. – I won them all.
– And Tristian White. – [Interviewer] Why are
you so good at this? – I think about my family. And I practice. – [Narrator] Ages for
competitors are seven to 14, gathering the very young with those who are close to being able to
drive themselves to practice. Typical athletic ability isn’t required, but the players who win
have something in common. – A lot of it’s hand strength. We can teach anybody how to do it. You have to want to go home and practice, and it’s not something you’re gonna learn shooting twice a week
or three times a week. – During the boys’ final
second game of finals, Gavin Held playing Tristian, Gavin’s up one game to none. He starts it off with his first shot. – [Narrator] For the second year in a row, Gavin won the boys division
with Tristian, the runner up. (people applaud)
(bright music) And in the girls final, it
was Sarah against Storm. – [Man] Sarah’s settin’
up to take her next shot. Oh, right through the middle. Shoots, she gets one out. And now, I think she’s winning
now, five to two, Storm. – [Interviewer] How do you think the sun is affecting the play right now? – [Man] Well, the sun
beatin’ off of that ring can get pretty bright. Sometimes they shoot blind almost ’cause they can’t see
what they’re shootin’ at. Storm sets up for another shot. (bright music) And that’s game, Storm wins the title. (people applaud)
(bright music) The girl’s champion, Storm Daziac! (people applaud) Our boy’s champion.
(bright music) Gavin Held!
(people cheer) – [Interviewer] Congratulations. How’s that crown feel on your head? – Loose.
(bright music) – I’m so happy. I’m so happy. I’m so happy! I’m tellin’ you, I’m tellin’ you. – [Group] We’re goin’ to Wildwood! (bright music) – I was eight when I first played, and then, I came in third place. And I tied for last at Wildwood. – [Narrator] Gavin Held has to make room on his bedroom shelf for the trophy he won at the county championships. In just three years, he
has gathered some bling. – This is my winning marbles from 2018 that I won the county with, and then you keep your winning marbles. – [Narrator] He likes
to look at the trophies when he plays video games here. – [Man] I mean, I could
make this out of concrete. – Whoa.
– And then, down in the garage his hands get a different workout on the marbles ring his dad built. – And then it’s this, it’s repetition. That’s all it is.
– Having won the county, Gavin was practicing for the Nationals. – It’s about power and back spin. This is spin, and then,
whenever you hit your marble, it can still be spinning. – [Narrator] He’s as serious about marbles as any 11 year old is about any game, even though his friends don’t get it. – Whenever they realize
there’s money you can get, they’ll change.
– Gavin has tucked that marble into the crook of his
thumb probably hundreds of thousands of times,
still he says it’s mostly a brain game.
– If you’re smart and you think a lot, it’ll be better because you can think about
where the marble hits. So if you hit it on the left side, the marble will go this way, and then the marble will go out. So then you would stick in. And then–
– It’s been great for him. – [Narrator] Like many
players, Gavin came to the game by way of family, his
stepmother was a local winner back in the ’70s. – That’s how I ended
up getting him to start was because he was struggling
with some social skills and some friends, havin’ a hard time. Brought him in and had him shoot marbles, and he met everybody and
everybody was so nice and he opened up more and more and more. – You gotta throw ’em! – I hit seven!
– Oh, you did? – [Interviewer] Who are your
best friends from marbles? – [Gavin] Brian, Tristian, Sam. Oh yeah, Madison too. – [Narrator] Gavin is
ready to win in New Jersey. He says a national championship will look good on a college application. He wants to be a veterinarian. – [Gavin] I’m gonna practice
a lot, and I’m gonna win. (bright music) – I’ve always been somebody
that likes to teach, to pass on what I know. (bright music) My name’s Dan LaGamba. I’m the 1997 National
Marbles Tournament runner-up. (bright music) I took it upon myself to
really teach kids the game, to really grow it, I knew
that where I was from in Laurenceville was a
hot bed for marble players that wanna play in time. And I really wanted to get Laurenceville back on the map for that. – [Narrator] For Dan, there’s
something almost sacred about his visits to this
lonesome old Catholic school gym. He ran around the St. Mary’s
Lyceum when he was a kid. The space now is mostly
used for marbles practice on the stage. – People are comin’ to me every day, hey, can you teach my kid? Hey, my son’s five, will
you still be doing it in a couple of years, can you teach him? We don’t turn anybody away. People of all athletic
abilities, shapes and sizes, as they say, can really
come in here and learn how to shoot a marble. – [Narrator] It’s been an organized game for going on a century. A game that is virtually
untouched by technology or even progress. – It’s still this ancient
game the way it was played many years ago. There’s not some camera sittin’ over there and judging and all that. Marbles is out of that,
marbles in or this kid shot the marble too hard. There’s not a radar gun out there or anything like that. You can get 13 marbles and a shooter for $1.25 maybe (laughs). Maybe 10 cents a marble. So yeah, it’s not very expensive to start. – [Narrator] He was not yet 10 when he first learned to play. The memories of that time are
trapped in the amber light of this gym and in the many
car rides he took with his dad. – He would drive me once
a month, every weekend to Maryland to practice
for 12 to 14 hours a day, and we’d get back in a
car and we’d drive three and a half hours back home,
talking about different things. I don’t know if he knows or remembers what the
conversations were about, but I do. And I think that’s what matters. Just those car rides were
pretty special to me. Here I am, 36 years old
and still doing marbles and still talk to him every day. And he’s still involved too, so. It means a lot.
(bright music) – [Narrator] Second place
was as far as he got at nationals, the sting of it
has softened with the years. – It kinda hurt, but it taught
me how to deal with things like that and move forward
and how to grow from it. I was a baseball player, I
was the basketball player. I played in this gym that
we’re sittin’ in right now. It really expanded in my childhood where I got out of my comfort zone, really took something that I didn’t know and was able to run with it. – [Narrator] And now
there’s another Daniel. – His name is Daniel, Daniel John, and he’s four years old,
he’s got his own little set of marbles and he get on the ground. And he says, hey Dad, watch this, and he flicks the marble out there. So yeah, I think he’s
gonna do it, I really do. And I’m excited, I
can’t wait to teach him, not just marbles, but
definitely everything. (bright music) (soft music) – It’s been a lot of years, so it’s 45 years for me, so. (soft music) – [Narrator] Larry Kokos
won the nationals in 1974. His friend, Rick Usner, won
it a few years after that, just days before aging out at 14. – It was do or die for me because that was my last year to shoot. If I didn’t win, I was done. So I mean, I knew going into that year that that was gonna be
my last year of shooting. – [Narrator] These former champs and some coaches were
gathered to remember. – I know all these guys I’m
sitting here with tonight from marbles.
– And the memories are still vibrant.
– When I think back on my childhood, marbles
played a tremendous role in who I am, I’ll say that, so. It was a pretty good
experience for a young child, especially growing up in Laurenceville and it wasn’t the hipster place it is now. – I haven’t shot marbles
probably since I was 16. I mean, when I was shooting,
it was a great feeling. And we had a lot of good times because it was so competitive then that you always wanted
to beat the other guy. So I would’ve missed that. – It’s been a long time
since I’ve shot marbles, but you still remember the
people you played against. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] Back in
Wildwood, it was the eve of the big event. (dramatic music) Pittsburgh kids were ready. All the practice and
blisters and scraped knees had come down to this moment. (intense music) The chance to defend their
hometown’s long tradition of domination.
(intense music) – It’s my fourth year, probably. So I’ve been here a few times. – Yeah, she’s a little nervous. I mean, but the first
day’s always nervous. – Welcome to the 96th anniversary of the National Marbles Tournament. – Just to be careful what they’re doin’ because a stubbed finger
or a stubbed thumb could put you right back
into the bottom of the pack. – Going into each game is
like will I win, will I win? Maybe not.
(dramatic music) – [Narrator] Before the
competition could begin, the players had to prove
their shooter marbles were regulation size. – Good luck today. A couple of them didn’t get through today, but with a lil’ twist they did. – [Announcer] All right, let’s
get these marbles rollin’! – [Narrator] They would
play dozens of games on 10 rings stretched
out under the hot sun. – [Announcer] All right, on
deck in the boys division, Allegheny County,
Pennsylvania, Tristian White. – I’m Tristian’s aunt,
and this is his first time for the national marble contest. – I felt scared that I
was never gonna get as far as I thought I would. – He’s doing good, I think
he won three games so far. This is his first, four, I’m sorry. – Mom, five.
– On deck in the ladies division, from
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Storm Staziac.
(crowd cheers) – I won two games. – [Announcer] On deck
in the boys division, from Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, Brian Lemon! – Some of these kids here
can get seven marbles out on the first shot, a lot of competition. – The sun is definitely an issue, especially when it’s in your eyeballs and you’re tryin’ to take a shot. It glares off the board a
lot, and then it’s ends up in your eyes and you
can’t see the marbles. And the shadows are always an issue. Yeah, it’s kind of rough. – It’s hard, it’s really
hard ’cause there’s a lot of good competition, and like you said, the heat is really bad. So it’s hard.
(breezy music) – [Narrator] The marbles game is baked into the life of this town. A few blocks from the
beach is the Hall of Fame. – Trophies, awards from past champions that they wanted to donate to the museum. – [Narrator] Wildwood and marbles work themselves into the
very DNA of families. Ed and Mari Ricci met here. – We had a great time. And like she says, I called
her, we started datin’. – Five years later, we got married. (bright music) – [Narrator] And they have two daughters. Amber and Ciera were national champs. – Amazing, like it’s crazy to think, like it doesn’t feel
like I won, but I did. – [Narrator] And their
friend, Madison Johnson, won the crown last year. – I’m excited to crown the next person ’cause I’m really hoping it’s somebody from Pittsburgh once again. So every year after you win,
you normally make a board, and then they put them
in the Hall of Fame. This was right whenever I
hugged my coach after winning. And then these are just friends that I met ’cause I just wanted them on my board. – [Narrator] And back on
the beach, the first day of competition was nearing the end, and the Pittsburgh
players were doing well. – Sarah and Gavin are in top eight. They’ve got the best positions right now. – But now I’m less nervous
’cause I don’t have to play the people I know. – [Narrator] The Pittsburgh
kids would sleep well knowing they were in good
position for tomorrow. (bright music) Day two brought closer games. The more experienced players
moved up in the rankings. For newcomers like Tristian,
it was a building year. – And basically that’s what we told him. Come down here, shoot the best you can, get as far up the ladder as
you can on the standings, and then next year we
can make a bigger push to get them into the top eight. – [Narrator] Sam Popifchat
was another first timer from Pittsburgh.
– I think I’m gonna do good. Think I’m gonna do really good tomorrow. – Well, good luck!
– Thank you! – [Interviewer] Oh, thank you! – You’re welcome.
– He’s so happy. It’s his element, it feels like. He just thrives on this
kind of interaction. – I don’t need the light. – [Narrator] In the ring, it was a battle for all the marbles. Outside the ring, it was a battle to see who would stop shaking hands first. – I loved how you were
able to take the last shot. Those games were good. – [Narrator] Maybe it has something to do with the pull of the moon on the tides, but this game has a way of
pulling people together, turning rivals to friends. – I wanna introduce you
to my new friend, Charlie. He’s from Colorado.
– And where’d you meet him? – Right here, when we were playing a game. Well, we met them at the
marble lady over there. We were checking out marbles, and we just bumped into each other. Then, the next game we played together, and we just found out
that we’re best friends. – [Charlie] Really fun
to meet new friends. – [Interviewer] Well, guys, think you’ll see each other again? – I hope!
– Yeah, I hope so. I mean, we might look a lot different. – Yeah, we got little things
to remember each other. – Never recognize this guy
without his backwards hat. – [Interviewer] What do you
have to remember each other? – I have this, Charlie gave it to me. And Charlie, you have the coin. – Yeah, so we found this 2016 nickel. Starting to turn the color
of the Statue of Liberty, so. Cool.
– Yeah, and Charlie found this in the sand and gave it to me. – Yeah, I found it.
– What is that? – Tiny.
– A little soldier. – Tiny toy soldier made
by World’s Smallest. – [Narrator] It’s the
kind of instant friendship that can only happen in the summer when you’re away from home. – So I found it.
– Where are you gonna keep these?
– In my bedroom, next to my bed.
– I’ll probably the same. Yeah. I sleep on a top bunk, so I don’t really have a bed stand.
– Yeah, me too. Yeah, I sleep on a top bunk too. (boys laugh)
(bright music) – That, to me, is what
marbles is all about, right. It’s about getting there
and making that friend that’s three quarters
away across the country. And I went to dog my
buddy, and I said, dude, this is what it was all about. I said 20 years ago,
that was you and me, man. – I grew up playing marbles,
I was the former champ in this tournament, and
I thought there’s more to this game than just playing. – We’re best friends, I
mean, we’ve kept in touch. We still see each other. We’re on the National Marbles
Tournament Committee together. We talk all the time. – The king and queen will be
crowned in the game of Ringer. That king and queen will
receive a $2000 scholarship. – [Narrator] Day three
brought intense heat, from sun and from opponents,
for the Pittsburgh players. (crowd cheers) – [Announcer] From Allegheny
County, Pennsylvania, Gavin Held!
(crowd cheers) – [Narrator] Only Gavin would
make it to the semi-finals. (crowd applauds) – Next year, I’m gonna try to win. I really wanted to win this year though because my friend who’s on my team won, and so she would’ve
crowned me, but it’s fine. – I was sad, and I didn’t
wanna cry in front of everyone so I just went back and
cried and got it over with. It’s my last year, so it’s very stressful. It would’ve okay if I didn’t win at all, but I just wanted to
make in the top eight. – [Narrator] Gavin held
strong through most of the semi-finals, but in the end, Pittsburgh’s last chance for
the crown did not advance to the finals. It had come down to one marble. (melancholy music) – He’s still young, I mean, he’s only 11. I mean. Next year’s the year, I say. – I mean, all I can say is for
all the competitors next year in the boys lane, probably
just better watch out and start practicing
from now ’til next year. – [Narrator] Gavin Held for
Moon Township, Pennsylvania, would come in fifth.
(uplifting music) So it wasn’t Pittsburgh’s year. – I’m pretty sure I can
take first next year. – [Narrator] But even
when you don’t win it all in the ring–
– I was mad, sad. A lot of different emotions. – [Narrator] And even if the friendships that started there are hobbled by distance and can’t last beyond a
beach, there will always be the life that happens around the rings. Family and friends and sand and sunshine. – [Gavin] Hug? – [Woman] Good job. – At the end of the day,
marbles is apart of summer. You look forward to summer. – You can teach other people, and it’s just a fun game. – If I had never shot marbles, there would be a hole in my life because I wouldn’t have the
friends that I would have. ♪ Those were the times ♪ Show me how you do that. That a boy! – [Narrator] And that summer sunshine flows down through the generations and onto a handful of marbles. – [Man] The thing about marbles is it gives a kid a childhood the way a childhood was meant to be. – [Narrator] A whole world of fun that is spinning more slowly for awhile. ♪ So take me back to the good ol’ days ♪ (breezy music) ♪ Ice cream until I head to ♪ – [Interviewer] What do
you like about Wildwood? – The free ice cream,
definitely, and then, the kids from everywhere. ♪ Tryin’ not to laugh ♪ – [Interviewer] What do
you do to get yourself in the right mindset?
– I just try to block, like just close my ears.
♪ Ooh ♪ – Sometimes when you practice at home, you have siblings that are younger and they might swallow ’em. So I have to put ’em up.
♪ Those were the ways ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ – [Interviewer] Do you
see any similarities between being a good speller and being a good marbles player? – Probably practicing.
♪ Take me back, ooh ♪ – The kid wants to learn. These guys can make him
a national champion. ♪ Those were the times ♪ ♪ Ooh ♪ – [Charlie] People dig
their feet in the sand because it’s very relaxing. – And we never get to be at the beach. – Yep, yep.
– Like we’re never at the beach.
– Colorado doesn’t have, Grand Junction, you never
get to go to the beach. – No, never.
♪ To the good ol’ days ♪