Are You Ready for Some Foosball?

Jim Allegretto, from left, Fabian Josza, Robert Anderson and Nancy Peck play foosball at Crystal City Sports Pub.
Jim Allegretto, from left, Fabian Josza, Robert Anderson and Nancy Peck play foosball at Crystal City Sports Pub. (By J Carrier For The Washington Post)
By Julia Feldmeier
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007

The first thing the foosball players at Crystal City Sports Pub do -- after they fork over $5 to Monty, the tournament coordinator, and after they place their drink orders with Heather, the perky waitress -- is wrap the table handlebars with sport grip, the rubbery material traditionally applied to tennis rackets and field hockey sticks.

The maneuver suggests a strange seriousness about a game typically associated with teenagers' basements, recreation centers and bars, and it makes us wonder:

Is foosball -- a.k.a. table soccer -- having an identity crisis?

Roughly 20 players from all over the Washington area turn up at Crystal City Sports Pub each Tuesday night to play "draw your partner"-style tournaments, for which they're typically tethered to the tables until 1 a.m. Informal events such as these have popped up across Washington in the decades since 1975, when Seattle foosballer Lee Peppard stirred up competition with a Quarter Million Dollar tournament tour.

The foosball exhibited at these tourneys is not the rattle-and-shake foosball of our youths. Passes are careful and calculated; shots are skillfully whipped past defenders. Older players pop Advil to ease the backaches that result from hunching; newer players watch helplessly as opponents give the ball fast and successive taps -- a sign of an oncoming "snake" shot, which can be impossible to defend.

There are aspects of the game that, categorically, make it a sport. Players suffer injuries (blisters), work up a sweat (despite keeping their feet firmly planted on the floor) and make facial contortions (when tournament coordinator Monty Melchior gets poised to shoot, his tongue snakes around his cheek).

Yet the disproportionate number of smokers in the group suggests that lung capacity is not requisite for foosball. And the beverage of choice is beer, not Gatorade.

So. Is it simply a hobby? And if not, then what?

Melchior pauses.

"Spobby?"

It's a strange little word for a strange little sport that has, it seems, cultivated a small but fierce following.

Melchior, 44 and a Greenbelt resident, has been playing competitive foosball for 12 years. Five years ago, he took charge of coordinating the Crystal City Sports Pub tournaments. You can find him there every Tuesday, assigning teams and keeping track of wins and losses so he can adjust players' ratings and handicaps. Or he's stationed at one of the venue's two tables, fiercely tending goal, quick to heckle the opposition but even quicker to concede an opponent's well-played shot.


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