Knocking opponents out to win

Perry Hall girl captures national marbles title

June 28, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Kathy Stehlik has a natural talent that all stars of her sport need -- she's mastered the art of putting backspin on a marble.

Now the 11-year-old from Perry Hall is basking in the limelight after defeating 29 marble competitors, ages 8 to 14, and capturing a national title at the 76th annual National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, N.J., last week.

"I had to practice a lot. I had to practice three hours a week," said Kathy, who will be a seventh-grader at Perry Hall Middle School. "You have to be a really good shooter to beat everybody there."

Kathy is one of the young stars of a traditional pastime that has increased in popularity in this high-tech age.

She has been playing marbles since she was 8, after watching her elder brother Mike play. She started training under Helen Mohr, Perry Hall marbles coach, and is a two-time Baltimore County tournament champion. She also took fourth place in the state competition.

After being crowned winner of the girls division in the four-day national competition, Kathy received a $2,000 scholarship, a trophy, plaque, watch and T-shirt.

"We are ecstatic. We are proud of her," said her mother, Pat Stehlik. "We just can't believe that it happened. It's just an exciting time."

Kathy practices with about 38 other pupils under Mohr and Kathy's brother Mike, 17, the assistant coach.

Mohr started the marble program in Perry Hall nine years ago, trying to compete with major programs in Pittsburgh, Reading, Pa., and Cumberland, which have existed for at least 50 years. The group practices at marble rings at Perry Hall Elementary School and in Mohr's yard.

Kids seeking a diversion from video games have begun taking up marbles, said James Ridpath, founder of the National Marble Club of America in Drexel Hill, Pa.

"It is a very good game. It teaches them more than to just shoot a marble," he said. "It teaches them good sportsmanship and self-reliance. In marbles you can't rely on nobody but yourself."

Mohr said she knew Kathy's natural aptitude for backspin would make her a strong competitor in marbles.

The game is played in a 10-foot circle with 13 marbles. The player who knocks out seven marbles by flicking the shooter marble with his or her fingers wins. If the shooter marble stays in the circle, the shooter gets another turn -- which is why backspin is so important.

"The battle was mostly won once you get a player like that," Mohr said. "She's poised. She does not get emotional."

Mohr said she has taught Kathy to hone her backspin and to make every shot count.

"She had the ability to take it -- it just mattered if she wanted it enough from within," Mohr said. "If that desire was there, I knew she could do it, without a doubt."

Now that Kathy has become the national champion, she can no longer play at the annual tournament, but will be inducted into the Marble Hall of Fame in New Jersey. Kathy said she plans to compete at other tournaments, including the Mason Cup in Middletown, near Frederick, in August.

"I wanted to win, but then I didn't want to win," she said of the recent competition.

"I wanted to play again next year and the year after that and the year after that until my 15th birthday."

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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