Mesa County marble mavens do well at national tournament

Jake O’Banion, 12, Sam Lee, 9, and Katie O’Banion, 14 are back in the Grand Valley, fresh from their triumphs at the National Marbles tournament in New Jersey. Katie placed fourth in her final trip to nationals.

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For the O’Banions, marbles has become the family sport.

Calvin O’Banion heard about the game and started playing, then his sister joined in and now his younger brother is a mibster.

Marbles became so popular, the Clifton family installed a marble ring in their garage.

Four years after Calvin competed in the National Marbles Tournament and won the boys sportsmanship award, Katie O’Banion, 14, placed fourth and took home the girls sportsmanship award in the 86th annual event last week on the beach in Wildwood, N.J. She lost in a playoff in the semifinals to the eventual champion. It was the last year she was eligible to play in the tournament.

“I wish I would’ve made the finals, but it’s tough competition,” O’Banion said. “I was more into the game, but it’s good to win that.”

She is the ninth boy or girl from Colorado and seventh from Mesa County to win the best sportsmanship award. The winner receives a $500 college scholarship.

Mesa County, coached by Leah Lee, has produced four national champions. The national champion receives $2,000 toward a college education.

Calvin and Katie’s younger brother, Jake, competed in his fourth national marbles tournament and placed 13th.

“I did better since I have a brother and sister who’s been out there,” Jake said. “They were examples to me.”

Lee has taken a Mesa County team to the national tournament for 14 consecutive years, one of the longest stretches by any county in the U.S., she said.

This year, she took her son, Sam.

The 9-year-old from Glade Park participated in his first national tournament and placed 16th.

He was the youngest competitor ever from Colorado, his mother and coach said.

“The first few days I was very nervous,” the younger Lee said. “After that, I was excited to see what happens.”

Lee was just as excited to see the beach and play in the Atlantic Ocean, but felt good about his first national tournament.

“I felt really good,” Lee said. “I’m ready to go next year.”

The National Marbles Tournament is open to boys and girls ages 7-14, who qualified through county tournaments.

The three-day tournament is a round-robin format with up to 20 games each day.


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