A Game of Rolley Hole, Anyone?
Park’s efforts bring traditional marbles competition back from the brink.
When a mountain shootout occurs in the neighboring counties of Clay in Tennessee and Monroe in Kentucky, women and children don’t run for shelter. Instead, they pull out folding chairs and cool drinks and settle in for a hot game of rolley hole. That’s when the smack of local flint upon flint is performed by the best sharpshooters around: marbles sharpshooters, that is.
Welcome to the world of rolley hole, where the marbles culture is serious business in adult circles. How serious? Area farmers and factory workers have won both the World Championships held each year at Standing Stone State Park in Tennessee and the British Championships held at England’s Tinsley Green in Tinsley, Sheffield. Local businesses often build outdoor rolley hole courts where employees play during breaks or after work. A favorite yard, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is located in Celina, Tennessee, near the banks of the Cumberland River.
Another popular site is the Monroe County Marble Club Superdome, in Tompkinsville, where games last as long as anyone remains to play. If the tongue-in-cheek name is grand, reality is more comfortable. It’s a multiroom mega-shanty with florescent lights, ceiling fans and couches that line the perimeter of indoor marble yards. There’s lots of dry humor and plenty of competition as men in ball caps and sneakers maneuver with all the grace and ease of 12-year-olds: from a squat, to one knee or both knees, using one hand for balance, the other to shoot. Though it’s good clean fun, it’s dirty business as clothes get covered in the dirt and dust of the Cumberland River Valley highlands.
What’s rolley hole? Most people are familiar with ringer, which pits one player against another in a marbles ring. Rolley hole is a team sport played on a rectangular, groomed dirt marble yard, 40 feet long by 20 feet wide, with three marble-size holes positioned along a center line about eight feet apart. Incorporating elements of golf, pool and croquet, it combines strategy and dead-on aim as one two-person team competes against another. The object is for each team to move the marbles around the field, hitting three holes in succession, repeated three times. Knocking an opponent’s marble away from a hole is part of the strategy, and spanning – moving a marble the length of your hand – is permitted. To stop a marble short, players put English (backspin) on it.
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