WILDWOOD - Hard times could be good for the game of marbles.

"With today's economy, we're seeing more marbles programs," said Beri Fox, president of the National Marbles Tournament Com-mittee. "A good basketball can cost $30. For $30, you can have an entire marbles program."

The low cost, she said, makes marbles a good option for children and families looking for something fun that does not require a lot of cash.

She said the typical starting cost for a novice player is $3.95.

"For under five bucks, you can get everything you need," Fox said.

Fox came to Wildwood this week for the 86th annual National Marbles Tournament, an event that got its start in 1922 and is still played much as it was back then.

The tournament game, called ringer, requires one shooter marble and 13 target marbles along with a hard surface to on which to play.

"Any child can play. All they need is the marbles and chalk to make the ring," Fox said.

And the low cost is just one of the advantages of the game.

"I like that it's something you can really make a lot of new friends with," 8-year-old Catherine Momjian said.

The young player from Newtown Square, Pa., came to Wildwood with her family for her second appearance at the national competition.

"I think I'll do a little better (this time) because last year was my first time here," she said as she waited for her turn to play.

Catherine practices about a half-hour per day and gets advice from her older brother, 14-year-old Luke Momjian.

This year marks his last appearance in the tournament, which is open to children ages 7 to 14.

"It's a challenging sport, and it requires a lot of concentration and skill," Luke said during a break on the first day of the four-day tournament.

He's been among the top eight players for the past three years and hopes to win this year.

"It's exciting to be here," he said.

Their mother, Christine Momjian, said the children started playing marbles through a church program. "Luke really took a liking to it. He's passionate about it," she said.

Catherine followed, getting her hands on a marble when she was about 3 years old.

Momjian said the sport also gives parents a chance to meet and get to know each other as well.

"It's really nice to see them each year. You end up exchanging e-mails and keeping in touch," she said.

And Momjian joked there is one other advantage to heading to the national tournament that actually has little to do with marbles.

"We load up on Douglass Fudge," Momjian said, referring to the Boardwalk business. "We get a lot of chocolate candy."

E-mail Trudi Gilfillian:

If You Go

The 86th annual National Marbles Tournament is being held each morning through Thursday at Ringer Stadium, Wildwood Avenue and the beach, in Wildwood. The finals will be held Thursday starting at about 11:30 a.m. The mibsters - or marble shooters - compete for college scholarships and awards.

The marble game played in the tournament is called Ringer. It is played by placing 13 marbles in the form of an "X" in a 10 foot circle with players alternating shots. The winner is the player who is first to shoot seven marbles out of the ring.

There are two distinct types of marbles used in the game, the shooter and the target marbles. Each player has his or her own shooter, made from glass or ground out of stone such as agate, which should be distinctively different from all other marbles in the game. The target marbles, made out of glass, are standard marbles that are identical to each other.

To learn more, visit: www.nationalmarblestournament.org

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