Skee-Ball, Played for Fun and Money

Dressed in an orange Tony-the-Tiger vest, clashing red-on-black striped pants and proudly sporting a mullet hairdo, Joe Mucha grasped ball after ball, achieving a score that reflected his years of training in the art of Skee-Ball.

He made it look easy. Or as he would say, perhaps to the chagrin of others, “skee-asy.”

“That’s why I’ve been training for two years,” said Mr. Mucha, 24, a web marketer from San Francisco who goes by the nickname “Joey the Cat.”

Mr. Mucha was one of more than 60 Skee-Ball players from around the country who descended on the Full Circle bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, over the Memorial Day weekend to compete for a $1,500 cash prize in the Brewskee-Ball National Championship, a Skee-Ball tournament. Around 200 fans hollered from small bleachers in the bar’s back room, dubbed the “Brewskee-Bowl,” and also cheered the competition via closed-circuit television that broadcasted the event on flat-screen televisions throughout the bar.

“I was a cheerleader in high school, so it’s all coming back to me,” said Suzanne Karotkin, 33 who works in the fashion industry in Paris, and said the event sounded “so outrageous” that she flew to New York to watch an old friend from Austin, Tex., compete.

Skee-Ball, which is played by rolling a ball up a four-foot ramp into holes that allot anywhere from zero to 100 points, was once considered a game for children at shorefront arcades, amusement parks and county fairs. Like kickball and dodgeball before it, Skee-Ball has made a resurgence as a game enjoyed with an ironic sensibility, and completely un-ironic joy, by urban 20-somethings.

At Full Circle, they celebrated their sport by guzzling beer, dressing in costumes and cheering each other on with nicknames chosen by each player to create a competitive persona, similar to Roller Derby. Skee-Ball nicknames like “The Skee-tuation,” “Skee-bron,” “Jackie Skee-horn,” and “Skee-na Fey” prove that incorporating the word “skee” is half the —dare we say, pun —of this game.

This was the second annual tournament, which was held after three 10-week Skee-Ball seasons, said Evan Tobias, 32, who along with friends owns the bar and started the Brewskee-Ball National Championship two years ago.

“We wanted to take a childhood game and make it competitive for adults,” said Mr. Tobias who calls himself and his partners, including Eric Pavony, 32, the C.E.O.s, or “Skee-EOs” of the tournament.

The partners refurbished four old Skee-Ball machines from Coney Island for Full Circle and then, two years ago, began leasing other skee-ball machines to bars in Austin, San Francisco and Wilmington, N.C. Then they started a tournament to boost business and grow the game’s popularity. They called it “Brewskee-Ball” in a nod to the beverage that most competitors say is as crucial to their performance as Gatorade is to professional athletes.

“When should I start drinking?” asked last season’s champion, Ray “Skee-Diddy” Carannante. “Because if you’re too far gone you lose concentration, but if you’re not drunk enough, you get nervous.”

Mr. Carannante, 38, a social worker from New York, played Skee-Ball on the Jersey Shore as a child and was reintroduced to the game by his girlfriend Leslie “Dreamsickel” Sickels. Ms. Sickels, 25, said that after having last played Skee-Ball while growing up in Ohio, she moved to New York in 2008 and found an East Village apartment on Craigslist advertised by two men who said that if she wanted to rent their spare room, she would have to join their Skee-Ball team.

“What other sport is like this?” she said.

In the Brewskee-Bowl, competitors crouched like speed skaters, their throwing hands swinging like pendulums, their eyes fixed straight ahead. A referee name John Fisk, who wore a plastic, yellow trucker’s cap shouted like a police sergeant before each match.

To win at Brewskee-Ball, most players strive to hit the 40-point hole consistently. Each game consists of 10 frames of 9 rolls per frame. A score of 360 in a frame, the equivalent of hitting the 40-hole nine times, is known in Skee-Ball as a “full circle” and is considered an excellent score.

Nicholas “Northpaw” Seymour, 25, a law student from San Francisco lists delivering pizzas and mining copper in his hometown of Butte, Mont., as skills that prepared him for competitive Skee-Ball.

“There are two basic techniques and beyond that it’s just muscle memory,” Mr. Seymour said. “Hold the ball with your fingertips, not your palm, and get low, you want to roll the ball, not drop it.”

Like Mr. Seymour, many players told stories of having recently moved from a small town to a big city and having met friends through Skee-Ball. Amy “Doozles” Spencer, 24, said that after she moved in 2009 to Austin, Tex., from Denville, N.J., Skee-Ball became her social life.

“Now all my closest friends are Skee-Ball rollers,” she said. “It’s a community.”

Ms. Spencer’s mother, Carol Spencer, 58, ironed her daughter’s picture on a t-shirt and came to Full Circle to cheer her.

“I think this is great, there’s camaraderie, there’s competitiveness,” Ms. Spencer said. “It reminds me of my bowling league.”

Gaines “A-La-Mode” Kilpatrick, 33, a web designer from Austin, said that he discovered that his secret to competitive Skee-Ball is that having fun translates to rolling 40s. Dressed in a bandanna emblazoned with Skee-Ball pins; hefty gold chains that may have been swiped from Mr. T; and aviator sunglasses, Mr. Kilpatrick was in his element at Full Circle.

“I try to act as ridiculous as I can at all times to remind myself that I’m having a really good time,” he said. “The best part is, the more fun I’m having, the better I roll.”

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