July 21, 2002

[As long as we were talking about the great game of Skee-Ball, I thought I'd share one of my favorite childhood stories.]

From the March 1938 issue of Happy Boy Magazine: For Boys Like You!

Episode 11 of Guy Sterling: Skee-Ball Champion!

When we last saw Guy Sterling: Skee-Ball Champion, he had overcome remarkable odds to defeat the evil Hans Schleppingham and win the Pigdirt County Fair Skee-Ball Tournament. More important than any trophy, though, was the pride of representing Pigdirt County in the National Tournament in Atlantic City! As we rejoin our hero, Guy is in the locker room of the legendary Skee-Dome in Atlantic City, waiting for the tournament to begin.

Gosh, thought Guy Sterling. Gosh, gosh, gosh. Gosh. It was all so exciting and dizzying. Ever since he had picked up his first handmade wooden ball he had dreamt of the National Championships, and now here he was, in Atlantic City, waiting to hear his name called. It was really a dream come true!

But it was also very scary, being all alone in a big town like Atlantic City. Not only was it the farthest he’d ever been away from home, but it was only the third time he’d ever been out of Pigdirt County for longer than a day (the other two times were on family trips to visit his Gramps and Grans, who had left Pigdirt for Scurville during the great varnish scare of aught-four). He missed Ma and Pa and Sis and Little Timmy something fierce, not to mention his friends and neighbors, and Old Man Pepper who ran the hardware store, and Happy the Mailman, and especially Becky Ann Susie, who he was starting to feel awfully sweet on. He even missed mean old Principal Leaf, and he wouldn’t have thought he’d ever miss him! Guy knew that he couldn’t just mope around missing everybody, though — he had a tournament to prepare for!

And what a tournament it was! Anybody who was anybody was there, rolling his wooden balls. Guy thought that he was a big deal for winning his little tournament, but now he was in an arena filled with big deals, and he was just a little deal. Last year’s champ, Chuckie Packard was there, as was Jehoshaphat Smith, the famed one-armed roller from Topeka. Mickey Merkin, Flip Young, Al Galvin — who was a small-town fish like Guy against such legends?

Guy sat wearily on the bench, resting his now achy head in his hands, when he heard somebody enter the locker room. Before he could look up, a strong, clear, voice shattered the silence of the room.

“You seem a bit worried, son. Maybe I can be of some help.”

Guy looked up, and a huge smile creeped along his face. The man in front of him was a little older and grayer than the man familiar from dozens of photos ripped from magazines and taped to his walls, but there could be no doubt that it was Joey "Spats" Murphy, Guy's boyhood idol, once the greatest champion of them all. And here he was, in the very same room as Guy!

Guy remembered evenings in front of the fire, listening to Pa Sterling tell tales of the great Spats Murphy. Spats was the first real Skee-Ball star, and legend had it that he learned the game on that first alley built by J.D. Estes back in aught-nine. He criss-crossed the country in those early days, going where the road took him, to the fairs and boardwalks, taking on the local talent and hightailing it when things got too rough. The legends grew with the sport, from every part of the nation: how up in Racine he threw a 450 blindfolded, that time in Salt Lake when he played two alleys at the same time, both lefty and righty. He'd spot the local champ a free 50 and leave him weeping. There was money, championships, women, and then...silence. Word of a scandal back in `35, and then nothing.

"The name's Spats, son, and you look like you can use a little advice."

What is Spats doing in Atlantic City? Where has he been all these years? Will he help Guy in the big tournament? Keep an eye out for the next episode of Guy Sterling: Skee-Ball Champion!
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