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I Love Skeeball

by Jane Kelly

Skeeball.  Some people get it.  Some people don't.  I not only get it; I love it.  I won't try to force the issue.  I will simply point out that the New Jersey Shore is chockablock with Skeeball opportunities and then present you with the facts -- the who, what, where, when, how and, most importantly, the why of Skeeball.  You decide for yourself.

What is Skeeball?

In a nutshell, Skeeball is a game of skill (minimal) in which players roll nine balls down a ten foot alley with the intention of landing them in scoring rings with values from ten to fifty.  As players accrue points, they earn tickets that can be exchanged for prizes of varying value (minimal).

Skeeball was invented by J. D. Estes of Philadelphia in 1909.  Although the lane length has been reduced from thirty feet to ten feet (with a intermediate stop at fourteen feet), the basics of Skeeball have remained the same.  So, you see, Skeeball is a classic.

How is Skeeball played?

There are some simple steps to follow to maximize your Skeeball enjoyment.

1.Acquire quarters.
To determine the number of quarters you need, estimate the number of games you intend to play and multiply by two. Generally, a Skeeball game requires two quarters.

2.Locate an arcade.
Skeeball machines are located in arcades throughout New Jersey. If you are lucky enough to be at the Jersey Shore, it is likely that you are within spitting distance of a Skeeball alley.

3. Decide on a strategy.
I cannot roll a ball straight down the alley to save my life.  Therefore, I have developed an approach where I roll balls at a spot on the right bumper at varying speeds until I find the correct spot/speed correlation for that particular lane. 

4. Choose your lane.
"First available" is not necessarily the key to Skeeball success.  Remember the stakes are high; you are playing for a rubber snake. Consider your game strategy.  I am right handed.  I prefer to stand to the left of my lane for maximum swing space.  Even in an uncrowded arcade, I always try to get the leftmost lane so that I can stand to the side to roll. 

5. Insert your quarters, pull the lever and focus.
The most challenging part of Skeeball is to remain focused on your game and not the tally board of the player to your left or the tickets spewing out for the player on your right.  Stay focused.  Be the Skeeball!

Skeeball Don'ts

Don't throw your ball.  Roll your ball.

Don't roll your ball down the wrong lane.  This leaves you permanently with eight balls for play and your competition with ten.

Do not roll your ball so hard that it flies back into your face and causes injury.

  Don't roll your ball so weakly that it never makes it across the bumper.  (However, if your ball should roll back to you, it is a Skeeball "DO" to roll the same ball again.)

Who does not play Skeeball? 

Anyone with pretentions does not play Skeeball.  There are no prestigious Skeeball Clubs to join.  There are no name-brand Skeeball accessories to buy.  There are no designer Skeeball clothes to wear. 

Pursuing an interest in Skeeball will not lead you to a high-powered sports career.  I know that there was a National Skeeball Tournament in 1932 (although the name of the winner does not come readily to my lips).  I cannot, however, find any record of this -- or any intervening -- year's tournament. 

As far as I know, Skeeball has not been made an Olympic Sport, even a demonstration sport.  I can locate no information on a National Skeeball League.  If you're looking for a sport that leads to lucrative product endorsements, I'm thinking Skeeball may not be for you.

When is Skeeball played?

It's always time for Skeeball!  As long as the arcade is open, you can play.  Skeeball is a favorite in all four seasons -- although in cold weather you might want to remove bulky jackets and sweaters to maximize your score.

It is not necessary to wait thirty minutes after eating to play Skeeball.  For successful play, however, it is best not to eat WHILE playing Skeeball.  Alcohol consumption has been proven to have a detrimental effect on total scores.  If taking medication, as always, it is best to consult a physician.

Why play Skeeball?

Sure you win great prizes playing Skeeball.  Who wouldn't want a rubber snake, a plastic monster, or a deck of cards with dinosaurs on the front?  One of my proudest moments came when my friend Eleanor and I each won an 8 ounce Pepsi glass.  It wasn't the commercial value of the prize that excited us -- it was the thrill of winning.  And after investing only sixty-four quarters!  Just last year I won a plastic Mustang -- a classic convertible model eight inches long.  Who cares if it took me two seasons to amass enough tickets to win it?  The object of Skeeball is not the monetary worth of the prizes.  Skeeball is about "the game."

Skeeball is about the pursuit of perfection -- the joy of landing all nine balls in the fifty ring!  (If anything special happens at that point, I am sure that I don't know. My personal best is 320.)  You don't play Skeeball against others.  You play against yourself.

And, as a final reason to play Skeeball, I guess I should mention that Skeeball is fun.  The mood around Skeeball lanes is light.  As far as I can tell, no one takes the game seriously.  If they do, I am sure I will hear from them.  Soon.

Jane Kelly is the author of three mysteries with a humorous twist set at the Jersey shore.

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