WILDWOOD - Eleven-year-old William Portalatin has already earned a place in the history books, or at the very least a well-deserved pat on the back.
The fifth-grader at Glenwood Avenue Elementary School won a districtwide marbles tournament Monday afternoon, meaning he will represent Wildwood, Cape May County and all of the Garden State at this year's National Marbles Tournament.
He and a girls champion, who is likely to be decided today, will be the first contestants to represent the state, let alone the city, at the national competition, held each June in Wildwood, since 2001. That year, boys Pat Bocchicchio and John Gray played from New Jersey, while Rita Salladino played in the girls competition.
And New Jersey has never had any boy or girl walk away with the coveted king or queen of marbles title, despite hosting the tournament for decades, including in Wildwood since 1960.
Marbles officials say Wildwood also hosted the tournament from 1937 to 1948, though the competition was held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943 and no tournament was held in 1944 or 1945 because of World War II. From 1949 to 1959 it was held in Asbury Park.
"It's been a dream of mine to get some local representation. It's a dream come true," said Beverly Trapp of the Wildwoods Convention Center.
Trapp has spent years working with the National Marbles Tournament officials, developing a fondness for the game and what it means to the city's past.
She and John Lynch, the center's director of sales and entertainment, worked with the school district and teacher Betty Harshaw to finally revive marbles at the local level.
They were both on hand Monday watching Wildwood history in the making.
Lynch, who operates the Lunch with Lynch Foundation, is a longtime supporter of the school. He purchased T-shirts for the students that read "Glenwood Avenue Elementary and Wildwood Middle School Marbles Team 2013."
Students in the school's after-school program take part in the marbles competition, and on Monday, William and eighth-grader Eddie Kane, 13, faced off in the school's tournament held at Ringer Stadium, the same set of concrete rings where the nationals will be held the week of June 17 at Wildwood Avenue and the beach.
On Friday, during the early rounds of the school competition, William said he had played the game before, but he initially wasn't interested for the school. "But then I started to like it," he said.
While the boys champion is already determined, the girls champion is still a mystery … at least for a few more hours.
About 15 girls competed for the spot, about double the number of boys involved, meaning their competition took longer.
Harshaw, a former marbles player who represented the Greater Philadelphia area at the national tournament in 1968, said the girl's winner will likely be decided this afternoon.
Griselda Bautista, 11, and India McClendon, 11, played in the finals Monday and are tied two games apiece in the best-of-seven finale.
The two girls took a break Monday as they waited to start play at Ringer Stadium.
"It will be cool. It will be like history," India said at the prospect of representing Wildwood on the national marbles stage.
Griselda said the competition would also lead to other students learning to play, starting a new tradition.
"I would feel very proud and very happy," she said of her chances of going to the nationals.
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