Local player tops the field in Centennial Marble competition
Contributor: RWhisnant Created: 7 months ago Updated: 7 months ago
Orem Geneva Times Newspaper- Wednesday August 14, 1996
by Reva Bowen City Editor
Kenyon Graff, 71, of Orem, hasn't played marbles regularly for about 60 years. That didn't stop him from taking first place in the state in the "Old timers" division of the Centennial marbles competition held recently in Charleston, Utah.
Ken won every game he played in the two-hour tournament===a total of four--to walk away with the top honors and several prizes, including a trophy, a T-shirt, and an 1896 silver dollar.
The tournament games were played on a carpet surface, in a circle approximately six feet in diameter. Thirteen marbles were lined up in a criss-cross formation. Players took turns hitting the marbles out of the circle, and the first one to get seven marbles out won the game.
Ken's wife, Ruth, said spectators were mainly drawn to the Seniors (Old timers) division out of the three competition levels--Peewee, Masters, and Seniors--because the skill level was so high among the "oldsters".
Starting off in dramatic style, Ken shattered the first marble he hit with his taw, a beautiful flint he purchased over 20 years ago.
He finished up the competition with a flair as well. In the championship game, Ken and his opponent were tied with five marbles out each. Ken's last shot took out two marbles at once for the win.
Ken and Ruth had modest expectations when they set out for the tournament. The marble master was coming off a tennis injury that had left him unable to practice a great deal.
"I thought if he could win one game, that would be great, " Ruth said. The couple soon found they did not have the same "rooting" contingent that other competitors had, either.
Ruth assisted her husband by watching carefully and after each shot, retrieving his taw, a valuable marble Ken estimates may be worth close to $100 now.
Ken's love for the game of marbles developed during his boyhood years growing up in Hurricane in Southern Utah. All during recess, after school, and any time when he could slip away from herding cows or doing other farm work, Ken would play the game in all its myriad variations. "This was our entertainment in those days," he said.
Ken's father, Elmer, was a schoolteacher as well as a farmer, and he was an excellent marble shooter, too. The love of the game was conveyed on to Ken, who eventually acquired a collection of hundreds of marbles. His more moderate collection today includes stogies, steelies, agates, onyx, and flints.
After a day's play, the flints would sometimes develop moons or spots on them from the hits they had made or taken. Ken said he used to come home and put the scarred marbles in his mother's lard bucket, and in the morning the moons would be gone. "Why, I don't know," he admitted.
Ken jokes that he won the opportunity to represent Orem in the tournament "by default". He read about the Centennial marbles competition being held as part of Orem's Summer Fest activities, and he coaxed Ruth to go with him to check it out.
The kids there didn't know how to hold a marble, let alone shoot it." Ken smiled. He did some teaching and some playing, and Jan Clark, a Summer Fest volunteer who helped with the marbles and jacks competition, asked him to represent Orem in the state tournament.
Ken and Ruth were married in 1950 and have lived in Orem for 46 years. He worked in the inspection department at Geneva in the rolling mills, retiring after 37 years. The couple are the parents of five and they have 22 grandchildren.
One son is a marble collector and he was thrilled along with the rest of the family about the news of the state championship trophy. But Ken realized that his grandchildren don't know how to play. He plans on packing some marbles when he goes to visit them.
"I'm definitely going to teach them how to play," he said. "I'd hate to have them lose it."
Ruth said she believes the purpose of having the Centennial tournaments throughout the state was to give people living today the opportunity to play the games that were popular in 1896, and to see that the skills are not lost to the rising generation.
"That's the first trophy I ever won," Ken declared.
"It was sure fun, anyway," Ruth added.