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June 3, 2013

Local marbles players sought national championship in 1948

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The Daily Star

---- — Louis Parisi and Eugene Platt of Oneonta had good aim when it came to the game of marbles. So good, in fact, their skills earned them an all-expenses-paid trip to Wildwood, N.J. in June 1948.

College basketball has its annual “madness” in March during the NCAA Tournament. In a similar fashion in the late 1940s, public school students in our area and across the nation looked forward to the National Marbles Tournament.

Marbles tournaments in the Oneonta schools dated back to around 1935, but the grand prize was that of pride in being a good shooter. Those contests were limited to the elementary schools.

The 1948 tournament was new and of a much grander scale, as 14 school districts from across the region had hundreds of hopeful boys and girls looking to go to Wildwood. The major local sponsors included The Oneonta Star and WDOS radio, the latter being owned by the newspaper at that time.

Clifford McVinney, vice-principal and guidance counselor at Oneonta High School, was in charge of Oneonta’s tourney. The way the tournament was set up, local school playoffs took place from May 12-24, with four winners from each school eligible to move on to a meet on Saturday, June 5, at the regional championship held in Oneonta. Two winners from the 14 school districts would then be escorted to Wildwood for the national championships between June 20-25.

“Well over 1,000,000 marbles experts now are practicing up on their shots,” it was reported on Saturday, May 5 in the Oneonta Star. Winners who came to Oneonta on June 5 would be treated to lunch and awarded prizes. Additionally, “moving pictures will be taken during the championship play.”

The big day arrived and the regional tournament was scheduled to be held on the Oneonta High School playground, at the corner of Academy and Grove Streets. An Arc Otsego building is found there today. Unfortunately a heavy rain fell so the contests had to be moved indoors to the high school gymnasium.

Oneonta High coach Hurley McLean oversaw the contests of 48 finalists, and WDOS broadcast the final contests in the early afternoon. Students from Franklin, Treadwell, Gilbertsville, Unadilla, Sidney, Worcester, Roxbury, Milford, Walton, Delhi, Laurens and Oneonta competed at 15 marbles rings.

Two were left standing in the end. Both were students of the Chestnut Street School, where the Calvary Hill Retreat Center is today, 290 Chestnut St. In the finals, Louis Parisi, 10, defeated Eugene Platt, 13, seven marbles to six.

While the “mibs” were flying in heated competition, the event was festive. “Over 50 prizes donated by Sears Roebuck Co. were awarded to the Oneonta contestants Saturday. Parisi was presented with a bicycle for winning the title and Platt was given a pup tent for runner-up honors. John Borchert, Sidney, was awarded a $5 prize from Jack’s restaurant for third place honors.”

“Lunch was served to contestants and escorts at noon,” the Star continued. “Sandwiches were provided by Diana Restaurant, soft drinks by Meridale Dairy, and ice cream by the General Ice Cream Corp.”

Parisi and Platt then moved on to face the best of the best in Wildwood. They were placed in league brackets by age, among 74 registered for play. While Oneonta’s representatives didn’t become national champions, they had a great time being in Wildwood for the experience, as described by the Star.

“Play is being conducted in the six pits near the boardwalk. The neat little cement ovals are rated the best in the nation.”

“The Oneonta boys and their escort, Hurley McLean ... are guests of the Dorsey Hotel. They enjoyed a round of entertainment yesterday afternoon (June 21), including swimming and a boat trip.”

“Tournament officials held a dinner for their guests. The winners of various tournaments conducted throughout the nation were presented with sweaters and duffle bags containing an assortment of merchandise.”

The national tournament was so popular that it was held again in 1949. A familiar face from Oneonta returned to the championship round, held that year in Asbury Park, N.J. It was that of Louis Parisi. The other finalist from our area was the 1948 runner-up, John Borchert of Sidney. No national championships were brought home, but both showed well in their leagues.

This weekend: Oneonta was thrilled to see itself in a local moving picture in 1918.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.