The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

June 6, 2010

Straight shooters

Mother-daughter marbles champions

A world marbles champion, whose daughter holds the current title, says she owes a lot to a Beckley man, the late George Springer.

“In 1972, I had finished a three-way tie for fifth in the National Marbles Tournament. My parents met and talked with George Springer. They asked him to give us some pointers on how I could become a better player,” said Debra Stanley-Lapic, who now lives in Shillington, near Reading, Pa.

He told them about a pamphlet called “The Game of Marbles” by Shirley ‘Windy’ Allen, the 1951 National Champion.

“A few weeks after I got home from the nationals, there was an envelope from George containing the pamphlet. It had tips, techniques, shooting styles — I couldn’t wait to dive into it.”

She read and studied avidly along with her parents.

“I seriously remember my dad waking me up at midnight one night and calling me downstairs to my marble practice board because he found something new in the book. He thought it would make me a better shooter, and he wanted me to practice!”

There was nearly a full-sized marbles board in the family’s living room. Stanley-Lapic would practice by the hour, usually while watching TV. “I would take literally thousands of different kinds of shots every day,” she said.

Over the years, she has developed her own technique and has coached 16 National Marbles Champions and hundreds of semifinalists.

“I’m in the process of writing my own version of “How to Play Marbles.” I have attended every National Marbles Tournament since 1972, and I consider myself a walking record book. I can remember events no one else can.”

In 1995, she gave birth to daughter Whitney. The birth announcement proclaimed “announcing the birth of a future National Marbles Champion.”

According to her mom, Whitney could shoot a marble at 9 months of age.

“While we do not recommend giving marbles to children under 5 years old, Whitney was raised around marbles from birth. She saw us shooting them, and she was always supervised.”

On June 25, 2009, at 3 p.m. Whitney and her he mom made history, being the first parent/child National Marbles Champions in American Tournament history.

Considering their Reading, Pa.-heritage, the pair lives in a city that hosts the only marbles tournament that was still conducted during World War II when most marble tournaments were discontinued for a few years. The city is the site of the oldest continually running marbles tournament in the country.

“Our newspaper, “The Reading Eagle,” sponsored our tournament for more than 80 years, but due to the economic situation, dropped sponsorship last year, the year my daughter won. It was heartbreaking, but we could not let the tournament die. I am running it again this year. I will not let the this tournament die, because it’s an important part of local and national history.

Stanley-Lapic played in the British and World Marbles Championships in 1992-93 and won the International Team Marbles Tournament in 1993 as a member of the Marble Kind King Mibsters. Also on that team was Ray Jarrell of Whitesville, the 1972 National Marbles Champion.

 “I wanted to take Whitney to see the world championships this year in London, so we told the tournament directors we were coming over. They said if we were coming, we were playing. We didn’t get much practice time in, but it was the trip of a lifetime for Whitney.”

 Both played on a team of dignitaries, because there was not a full team from the USA. Their team consisted of two National Champions, the mayor and her husband and the tournament director’s son.

“We made it to the quarterfinals, but Whitney and I qualified for five individual events. We both placed second — with Whitney in the best female player division and myself in the over-50 division. We were very pleased with our performances.”

After London, they spent a week in France. While they were watching the only English Channel CNN World, they saw news of the April Montcoal mine disaster.

“I tried to search online for the names to see if there might be anyone I knew. The Beckley area is a hotbed for good marble shooters of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The news brought back many good memories, and I started thinking about how I would like to find someone who remembers George Springer and some of the other famous marbles players from that area.”

Among those would be her National Marbles Champion partner of 1973, Doug Hager, who played for Whitesville.

“I have not heard from him since we came back as guests of the tournament in 1974,” she said. “I often think about him and wonder how he is doing.”

 Stanley-Lapic takes strong exception to those who say marbles is “not a real sport.”

“They are wrong. We train just like any other athlete. Instead of a basketball, football, soccer ball, baseball or bat, we use a little marble. Try hitting something that is 5/8 of an inch with something that’s only 3/4 of an inch from up to 10 feet away. We use mental training and strategy.  It is most definitely a sport,” she said.

Its downfall may be the electronic age, Stanley-Lapic said.

“Marbles had its heyday before computers, iPODs, video games, texting and Facebook. Kids who do play sports tend to play three or four, so they are tied up with practices and games in every season of the year.”

This year Whitney will be inducted into the National Marbles Hall of Fame, just as her mother was years before.

Writing a book and passing on what she’s learned gives Stanley-Lapic a sense of fulfillment, and she hopes to see more people take an interest in the sport.

Anyone mentioned in her story who would like to get in touch can e-mail Mibsterwon@aol.com.

— E-mail: bdavis@register-herald.com

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