AVALON — Allan Mackey learned to love three things from his father: music, the Philadelphia Phillies and the beach.
While World War II was raging overseas, the father and son would spend hours scouring the beach for large clamshells and then tossing them at each other.
The sport of clamshell tossing — in which pitchers attempt to toss shells into 8-inch-wide holes about 20 feet apart — was widely popular at the shore then, and the Mackeys were fierce competitors.
“We’d play between 150 and 200 games every summer, and I only won twice,” said Mackey, 74, of East Calais, Vt.
But interest in clamshell tossing, and Mackey’s father, both died shortly after the war ended.
The Avalon Historical Society, however, is trying to revive the sport.
On Saturday, it hosted its third annual W. Norman Mackey Memorial Clamshell Tournament — named after Mackey’s father — on the 30th Street beach, where dozens of competitors vied for the right to be called a “clamshell champ.”
“We’re trying to bring back some of the old-time things, and this is one of them, because of how popular it used to be,” said Rose Marie Chew, the historical society’s secretary. “We’re starting slow, but we’re hoping to build a following.”
And the down economy could make that easier.
“Today kids bring umpteen things to the beach,” Chew said. “This is free. It can be a little hard to find the large shells still intact these days. But it doesn’t cost a dime.”
Kevin Quinn also learned the sport from his father. On Saturday, the 40-year-old Middletown, R.I., resident competed on a team with his 11-year-old son, Liam.
“We’ve never played in a tournament before, but this is inspiring,” Quinn said. “I might try to get one going up in Rhode Island.”
Unlike the Mackeys, the younger Quinn only admits that his father is “a little better” than he is. Kevin Quinn said his son wins about 30 percent of the games they play when he gets “lucky” and into a groove.
But Liam Quinn said he plans to keep getting better, because he likes the sport so much.
“It’s creative,” he said.
Competing next to Quinn was Sea Isle City resident Etta Creighton, 88.
“I played last year for the first time, this year I want to get better,” Creighton said just before her shell hit the top of the hole across from her.
But some techniques work better than others, Mackey said.
“Going with the wind, you can pretty much do whatever feels comfortable. But going against the wind, it helps to spin it because that cuts through the wind,” he said.
These are lessons that Mackey learned from his father and lessons he taught his sons, who in turn passed it on to their own children.
“I can’t help but think that my dad is looking down on us and smiling,” Mackey said. “Because we are still having fun doing something that he got some much enjoyment out of.”
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