Today’s mibsters would never steal your steelie

Finding real marbles today can be a challenge, according to Glade Park resident Leah Lee, who runs a marbles-for-fun club. With her help, marbles has caught on with some youngsters, much like it did in the past without video games and the Internet.

Before there were video games, the Internet, smart phones, texting, tweeting and satellite dishes that brought 24/7 cartoon channels to remote areas where cable didn’t go ...

We had marbles.

Today’s grade-schooler might get looked at funny for having marbles. In the 1970s, you got looked at funny if you didn’t have a sack of them.

And most of us didn’t know what to do with them.

Yeah, we drew a chalk circle on the blacktop and knocked a few marbles out, but it never got serious.

Nor did the marble playing last, probably because that fifth-grade bully who a week earlier took your G.I. Joe lunch box decided he needed your “steelie,” even though you never ever saw him play a game of marbles.

And that “steelie,” the prize in most marble bags, wasn’t even a real marble. It was a ball bearing, no doubt the incarnation of a sad-sack dad who was too cheap to buy his son real marbles. But he worked at a ball-bearing plant, so …

Dad to Johnny: Merry Christmas, son! Here’s a bunch of marbles.

Johnny to Dad: Uh, Dad, aren’t these ball bearings?

Dad, with incredulous look, to Johnny: What? You mean you kids don’t have “steelies?”

Finding real marbles today is a challenge. Ask Glade Park’s Leah Lee, who goes to local schools and introduces kids to the game and runs a marbles-for-fun club. And for Grand Valley kids who want to go to the next level and compete, she coaches them.

“Try to find a good set of marbles in a (local) store,” she said. “You can’t.”

If kids didn’t have all of modern day’s wonderful gadgets, marbles might still be the rage and stocked in stores.

That they’re even in the minds of the few Grand Valley kids who do know what a shooter is, or whether that shooter is a rock or glass, which marbles spin the best for stopping power or have the weight to stop on their own, is a tribute to Lee. And she’ll send you back a generation and credit her father, Jerry Piquette, for instilling her love of marbles.

Her father knew how to shoot marbles, as in really shoot marbles. So, he taught her, and she became good at it, but she never went to a national tournament. Colorado didn’t qualify kids for it in those days.

That changed when she became a coach. She took her first marble shooters, known as mibsters in the marbles world, to the National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, N.J., 17 years ago.

That was an education, as she quickly learned how little she knew. But she encountered something else that stays with her to this day: sportsmanship.

Other states’ coaches and players, who had much more experience, shared their knowledge with Lee and her mibsters during that first trip. They were the competition, but they had no problem teaching techniques to others who might one day come back to New Jersey and defeat them.

And Lee, indeed, brought back better players in ensuing years. She has coached five national champions.

But when she says that, it is the precursor to another number of which she is equally proud: She has coached 13 winners of the good-sportsmanship award at the national tournament.

Just like one boy and one girl win tourney titles, one boy and one girl receive sportsmanship honors. And it’s more than a feel-good award. It comes with scholarship money.

One of them was Lee’s daughter, Anna, who claimed the honor a year ago as a 9-year-old.

Anna, a good shooter whom Lee believes has the ability to be a national champ, said her smile impressed the judges. That’s because it always was there, win or lose. When Anna reported her results to the judges, she said they never knew until she told them if she had lost.

So, while Lee teaches her mibsters technique, they also learn what a good attitude and respect for others can do for them in the marble circle and outside it.

Lee said Colorado as a whole produces marbles players who appreciate the importance of sportsmanship. That’s not always the case elsewhere. At the national tournament, she said, she sees a few players and coaches who care only about winning.

She says that never will be her.

“I want the kids to feel good about who they are, not just winning,” she said.

When I was a kid, we played marbles for keeps. Lee’s mibsters don’t.

We weren’t very good sports.


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