The 94th annual National Marbles Tournament crowned its newest champions this week along the Jersey shore.
They both hailed from the marbles hotbed of Allegheny County, in and around Pittsburgh, where the throwback game still thrives largely due to the efforts of one family.
“If you go to a mall or a school or a park and you set up a marbles ring and have kids playing, it just draws the other kids in,” said Ed Ricci, whose grandfather started a program that is still supported by the county parks department. “They really enjoy it.”
MORE: About the tournament
Ricci spoke Friday by cell phone as the family, including his wife, Maureen, who helps run the program, made the long drive back to west Pennsylvania from Wildwood, New Jersey, which is essentially to marbles what Williamsport is to Little League baseball.
Along for the ride was another national champion, 12-year-old Sierra Ricci, who followed in the footsteps of older sister Amber, the 2008 national girls champion.
“It’s special,” their father said, his voice filled with pride. “It’s a family tradition. It couldn’t get any better than that.”
Sierra played 79 games over four days, finishing off the tournament with an 8-5 victory over another Pittsburgh player, 13-year-old Lauren Shutey. The boys division was a thriller: 14-year-old Eli Murphy of Pittsburgh — yet another member of the Allegheny County team and coached by Ed Ricci — rallied from an early deficit to defeat Josh Frazho of Michigan in the deciding game, 8-7.
When it was over, Sierra and Eli received their rewards, which included $2,000 scholarships and matching crowns.