Md. girl takes all the marbles in contest 14-year-old captures 1992 national title

July 05, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN -- South Mountain sits just outside her front door. The hay in surrounding fields is rolled into giant biscuits, honeysuckles emit a heady bouquet and corn fields stretch to the bottom of this lush Frederick County valley.

Indeed, it is a fitting home for a queen.

Trish Tressler, 14, is fresh from her triumphs in Wildwood, N.J., where she captured the girls' title at the 69th National Marbles Tournament.

"In the final match," says her father, Dennis, "she was flat-out shooting. Trish sort of had this red-hot intensity and made the other girl cry. It was over by the fifth game because Trish's opponent just wanted to go home."

By winning the national title over 33 other girls, Trish earned a $2,000 college scholarship. Competitors in the national game can't repeat as champions, so Trish will be enshrined in the Marbles Hall of Fame in Wildwood next year, accompanied, no doubt, by her coach, Jeff Kimmell.

"I really like to get intense," says Trish, who will enter the ninth grade at Middletown High School, where she expects to play basketball, be a cheerleader and continue to be an honor student. She eventually would like to be an architect or interior designer.

Most champions like Trish come from the Appalachian marble meccas of West Virginia, the Maryland panhandle and Western Pennsylvania, where marbles have their own tradition and lore.

In Reading, Pa., for instance, shooting marbles correctly is taught in elementary and middle schools as part of the physical education curriculum.

The United States has five marble factories: three in West Virginia, one in Reno, Ohio, and the other in Ottawa, Ill. For the serious students of marbles, the Marble Collectors Unlimited unite annually in Amana, Iowa, where members gossip, trade and buy.

A marble in "wet mint" condition, or shiny and unmarked, can bring a $4,000 asking price at these gatherings.

Trish Tressler has an extensive collection of marbles, but none is worth more than the memory of having collected it.

Her most valued marble is her beloved shooter, a rather plain-looking missile she keeps in her red marble bag. It is made of German agate stone and buffed with fine sandpaper to make the marble more workable between her thumb and forefinger.

"See," she says while holding up her right hand. "I've been doing this for three years now, and my right hand is bigger than my left. I also have this callus, right here next to the knuckle. Sometimes shooters bleed from the friction of the marble, but I don't have that problem anymore."

Trish and her fellow competitors play in a ring 10 feet in diameter set on smooth concrete. Thirteen marbles are laid out in an X-pattern, and the shooter must knock out seven marbles to win a game.

To continue shooting, a competitor must put a strong backspin on the shot to keep the shooting marble inside the circle or lose her turn.

Trish displayed her skills in the family basement where her father laid out a regulation ring.

This young lady has the eye of a hawk. She blows on her hand, much like a crapshooter might, and positions her shooting hand just outside the ring. Trish takes careful aim and releases the marble with surprising velocity. Her first shot cracks two marbles past the perimeter while her shooting marble takes a bite backward even though the surface is smooth concrete. A smile crosses her face.

She's a natural, say her parents. Her mother, Erma, works part time as a local parks and recreation leader, and that's where Trish's interest in shooting marbles started.

Without too much practice, Trish finished fifth in 1990 at the nationals and placed third last year. For 1992, Trish began

practicing an hour every night in October and increased her practice time to several hours a night one month before her competition.

"I love to just get into my zone, my little private world, and shoot," Trish says. "I think that's real important when you get into competition. You can't get emotional."

"At the nationals, they called her 'stone face,' " says her father with a laugh.

The Queen of Marbles is awash in her success. Friends call with congratulations, others leave messages on the mailbox. There's been a hint of an appearance on the David Letterman show.

But reality, even for royalty, is always just around the corner.

"Don't forget, Trish," advises her dad. "You gotta sweep downstairs, and I think your mom has a couple of chores for you."

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