ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Not all of this week's notable athletic achievements are taking place in Vancouver. At a small bar in Brooklyn, a national skee-ball champion was crowned. You may remember skee-ball from childhood arcades - the little wooden balls rolled up a lane to numbered holes.
Well, now we know who the best roller in the U.S. is, at least we will know that when NPR's Robert Smith tells us.
(Soundbite of conversations)
ROBERT SMITH: Shh. We're in the middle of the quarter final match.
Unidentified Man: Ehrlich's been on fire tonight, hitting many full circles, a few cherries here and there. But Ocean has been right with him, matching him.
SMITH: You think you know skee-ball, maybe won a few tickets at a Chuck E. Cheese? Well, this is a whole different level.
Unidentified Man: And he starts off with a hundo right off the bat and he's going to the hybrid roll.
SMITH: Hundos, cherries, hybrids? The self-proclaimed National Skee-Ball Championships has a language all its own - and a home. The Full Circle Bar in Brooklyn is the only dedicated Skee-Ball watering hole and stadium in the United States. Eric Pavony takes it all very seriously.
Mr. ERIC PAVONY: I am the Skee-E-O of brewskee-ball.
SMITH: A skee-ball league that's been around for five years, or as Eric says...
Mr. PAVONY: Skeesons.
SMITH: It's played in New York, San Francisco, Texas, North Carolina.
Mr. PAVONY: Skee to shining skee.
SMITH: That's just terrible.
Mr. PAVONY: I know, I know. Actually, that's one of the big things is puns in the league.
SMITH: Okay. Let's just get them all out of the way. Among the teams, Flock of Skeegulls, Skee Patrols, Skeeven Colbert - needless to say, there's a lot of drinking in this sport. Before the tournament, the top seeds are all at the skee-ball machines rolling the wooden balls up the ramps and into the pockets.
(Soundbite of ball rolling)
SMITH: Forty points, 50 points, the hundo - the 100-point pocket. And I notice something strange. You know how most athletes are big or tall or athletic? These guys are about my height five-foot-eight. Andrew Litz plays under the pseudonym William Ocean.
Mr. ANDREW LITZ (Skee-Ball Player): I mean, this is basically was meant as originally as a child's game. You know, like, that's why the lanes are so low. So, I think, like, really being able to, like, get down and crouch and get low to the lane, I think you have more success.
SMITH: They may be of average height but I would not call them normal. Joey Mucha, aka Joey the Cat, wears a women's leopard print jumpsuit. He's from the San Francisco league. And there's a reason why he's so good.
Mr. JOEY MUCHA (Skee-Ball Player): Well, get this: I purchased my own skee-ball machine off of eBay and it's in my one-bedroom apartment, which I don't know how many other skee-ballers actually own their own skee-ball machine.
SMITH: Ah, but you know what they say: On any given skee day, any roller can triumph - or something like that. And during the skee-ball tournament, even Joey the Cat is playing more uneven than a carny's grin.
Mr. MUCHA: Just coughing up hairballs left and right.
SMITH: What he did not count on was a New York City player who had the stature of a chimp.
Mr. RAY CARANNANTE (Skee-Ball Player): I am five-five-and-a-half on a good day. This is a short man's game, sir.
SMITH: Ray Carannante, better known as Skee-diddy, can throw 40-point balls like a robot sent from a skee-ball-playing future - or like a kid who grew up going to the Jersey Shore, which he did. His metronome-like arm propelled him to the finals.
Unidentified Man #2: He's going all 40s right now. Very smooth, very consistent. He's got an 18 through six, 22 through six...
(Soundbite of cheering)
Unidentified Man #2: There it is. We have the first ever skee-ball national champion, Skee-diddy.
SMITH: Skee-diddy wins enough tickets to trade in for 170 pencil top erasers and a Chinese finger trap - nah, that's just a joke. He gets a trophy, topped by a little gold man throwing a little gold ball. It's really a bocce player, but what are you going to do? It's the first national skee-ball trophy ever made, but not the last.
Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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