by Bob Stealey
A Doddridge County man -- a father who is very proud and rightfully so -- has sent me an account of his son's marble-playing accomplishments that took him to the championships in Wildwood, New Jersey. It is always a pleasure to include the achievements of youngsters in my column.
Ralph Dillon of New Milton, a small community approximately 10 miles south of West Union, submitted "The Road to Wildwood," about his son Ralphie, who will be a ninth-grader at Doddridge County High School this coming school year.
Mr. Dillon began:
"There were many trips to the Doddridge County football field, where our marble courts are located. Many times, practicing in the hot sun, trying to improve Ralphie's lag, break shots and, especially, sticks. Ralph Sr. -- he was writing in third-person -- was his beating dog, or practice partner.
"On June 18, 2000, we all met at our marble coach's, Debbie Leeson's, house to enjoy a pizza party and a good night's rest before hitting the highway at 5 a.m. We arrived at Rio Motel, Wildwood, N.J., around 4 p.m. We all checked in, received our rooms and literature and shirts, met old friends and then had a big cookout.
"After everyone settled in, we all headed up the boardwalk to Ringer Stadium to practice 'til dark. (The next day it was) an early wake-up call at 5 a.m., showers, watched the news and had breakfast at 6 a.m. Ralphie and father opted to walk the mile to practice marbles from 6-8 a.m. every morning.
"Preliminaries started Monday morning at 8 a.m. with opening ceremonies and the 'Star-Spangled Banner.' Play continued every day until noon. (It was the) same regimen every day through Wednesday. At the end of Wednesday's preliminaries, Ralphie had the best win-loss record at 23-5 and one stick. A stick is where you win the lag and get the first shot of the game and you shoot seven of the 13 marbles out. The other boy doesn't get a shot. That's a stick.
"To start the semi-finals on Thursday morning, the top eight boys with the best records start playing off. Ralphie Dillon ended up with nine wins and three losses, second only to Andrew Martinez, with 10 wins and two losses.
"The girls' finals started around 12:30 p.m., with Laryn Miller of Pittsburgh, Pa., defeating Stephanie Taylor of Cumberland, Md., eight games to two for the national title.
"Following a short celebration, the boys' finals began. Best friends Ralphie Dillon of Doddridge County and Andrew Martinez of Grand Junction, Colo., got under way. Martinez, 1999 runner-up, won the lag, and the long-awaited boys' finals were under way. Ralphie Dillon had picked Andrew as his favorite to win the title before we had arrived in New Jersey. The games went back and forth until the ninth game, when it went 11 innings -- both boys unable to shoot the last marble out. It went two more games, with Martinez taking the title, eight games to five games, out of a possible 15 games. Immediately, Ralphie jumped up and bear-hugged his good friend from Colorado.
"I have never seen such great sportsmanship out of a boy from meager beginnings. And even though Ralphie Dillon didn't win the national title, I, as a father, was so proud of his runner-up status and sportsmanship."
Mr. Dillon concluded his account, "To Doddridge County, you can be proud of how this boy represented (the) county. It was my proudest day for both of us to wear our shirts that read, 'Doddridge County, W.V.'"
Have a nice, safe Independence Day! Another column Wednesday.