Cooper Fisher tucks his thumb under his fingers and makes a fist. With his knuckles on the ground, he wraps his pointer finger around a large marble he named “Jupiter.” Then the 12-year-old flicks his thumb, firing the colorful stone sphere across a 10-foot circle.
The agate marble whacks the smaller glass marbles on the platform, sending them flying. In the game of marbles, the goal is to hit seven marbles out of the circle before your opponent does.
“Mibsters,” says Marilyn, Cooper’s twin sister. “That’s what marble players call ourselves.” Cooper and Marilyn, both sixth-graders at Middletown Middle School, started playing about two years ago after seeing a poster at their local post office with information about a marbles club.
“Our grandma was a marbles champ when she was a kid,” Marilyn says. “She just sort of encouraged us to do it.”
Playing marbles takes skill and practice. “It’s harder than it looks,” Cooper says.
He and Marilyn practice daily on blue-painted concrete courts at a park near their home in Middletown, Maryland. On Saturdays, the twins practice for two hours with their club, the Frederick County Knucklers.
Marbles takes a bit of toughness, too. Sometimes Cooper’s knuckles bleed from pressing into the concrete, or his thumb “gets busted up from shooting,” he says.
When he’s not playing, Cooper stores his marbles in a recycled tin. Marilyn keeps hers (including the agate shooter that she says looks like Saturn) in a pouch that she knitted.
Cooper and Marilyn also compete in tournaments. Earlier this month, they competed at the Middletown Valley Championship. Cooper won first place for the boys, and Marilyn won first place for the girls.
In June, they’ll head to Wildwood, New Jersey, for the 90th Annual National Marbles Tournament, where they will play on raised platforms on the beach.
“You get to make a lot of new friends and meet a lot of other players,” Cooper says about the national tournament. “But whether you win or lose, it’s all about having fun.”
This will be the third time he and his sister have competed at nationals. The competition draws players ages 7 to 14 from all over the United States. About 50 kids entered last year’s tournament, with each competitor playing about 48 matches over four days.
“It’s intense with so many people watching and playing against super-good, super-serious players,” Marilyn says. “But it’s a good learning experience about how to stay calm under pressure. Plus there’s really good pizza on the boardwalk.”
Although boys and girls compete separately, Marilyn admits that she will get a little satisfaction if she wins more matches than Cooper.
“I do like trying to beat my brother,” she says.
All that’s needed to be a mibster, or marbles player, is a 10-foot circle, 13 glass marbles and one shooter marble. “You can make your own ring by using chalk on asphalt or concrete, like in a garage,” Marilyn Fisher says. Her brother Cooper Fisher suggests checking out hobby stores for different types of marbles.
Shooters cost between $5 and $50, and the Fishers say they usually spend about $15 for one. (Players have at least two shooters in case one breaks.)
For more information about their club, visit www.frederickcountyknucklers.com.
To learn the rules of the game, visit www.landofmarbles.com/marbles-play.html. Always ask a parent before going online.