Mark Hayward's City Matters: These players got game – for foosball
Weekend foosball players compete at Jokers in Manchester Saturday evening. Clockwise from left are Roger Demers, Ron Boucher, Randy Raposo, Chuck Dooley and Sean Riley. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)
Parents devote sums that approach college-tuition down payments for endeavors like hockey leagues and summer sports camps.
Local jocks who made good — such as Steve Schubert and Don Sarette — are canonized in city lore. And ballfields and ball courts dot the city, enticing thousands to the lure of a spinning ball and a hard-fought contest.
"You're always looking for a hole, and to play off where you think they're not going to defend," said John Davis, a Manchester salesman who is a foosball regular at Jokers. "This is basically pool with defense, but a lot of power, speed and accuracy."
Two 20-something MIT students even showed up for the tournament; both have earned national titles in the amateur or rookie categories. Most of Jackie Han's fellow MIT students are techies and devoted to video games, she said. She picked up competitive foosball from her boyfriend.
Much has changed since then.
Games are intense. Some strap braces to tendon-strained forearms. During breaks, teammates discuss strategy.
Demers rushes outside after getting eliminated in the Draw Your Partner contest.
Perspiration bleeds through the red T-shirt of Stephen Halsey, a semi-retired installer of data and telephone lines. ("It's not exactly aerobic," said Halsey, "but it's the next best thing.") The competition grows in intensity; by early evening, the room smells of beer, tavern food and perspiration.
Riley will talk casually while waiting his match, but he flashes a look of annoyance when someone brushes beside him during a game. Too much is on the line.
Because this is sport, no doubt. It welcomes people of different ages, professions, education levels, home towns and abilities.
"Once everyone gets the ball control down, and it's equal, it becomes a creative, mental game," Riley said.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He is rusty foosball goalie, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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