WILDWOOD — Players in the National Marbles Tournament come from places as far away as West Virginia and Tennessee or, in the case of India McClendon and William Portalatin, just a few blocks away.
The two Wildwood students, both 11 years old, are playing in the tournament held on the city’s beach at Wildwood Avenue, a venue just a short walk from their elementary school.
Their trip to the tournament marks a return for Cape May County and New Jersey to the contest, which hasn’t seen a player from the Garden State compete since 2001. No New Jersey players have ever won the tournament.
“They’re very nervous. I’ve been kind of nervous, but then I’m not 11 or 12,” their coach Betty Harshaw said of India’s and William’s turn on the national marbles stage.
Monday marked the first day of play for the 52 contestants — 26 boys and 26 girls — in the 90th annual tournament, and by 8:30 a.m. the 10 rings at the beachfront Ringer Stadium were busy as the games began.
India and William each won their first games, and both hoped that was a good sign.
India said she practices twice a week at home.
“I was excited, but I was nervous,” India said of how she felt when she woke up Monday morning.
Her grandparents and her mother are expected to come watch, she said.
William said he too was nervous about playing before such a large group against players from all over the country.
He said he even did something special for the occasion — he got a new haircut.
Beri Fox, president of the National Marbles Tournament committee, said the competition started in 1922 in Philadelphia.
It has been held in various locations over the years, including Asbury Park, but it has called Wildwood home since 1960.
The anniversary is being celebrated with a new logo and an alumni tournament open to anyone who has played at nationals.
Harshaw, who played at the nationals in 1968, was among those playing in that event.
Fox said the tournament owes its longevity to the commitment of those involved.
“I think it’s dedication and the fact that when you’re here it’s just like being with family,” Fox said as tournament play continued.
Fox, who works for West Virginia-based marbles manufacturer and tournament sponsor Marble King, said the participants form long friendships in what is a friendly competition.
The tournament runs through Thursday when a new king and queen of marbles will be crowned.
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