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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Skee-Ball’s World Champion Crowned in Wildwood

26 people qualified for this year’s Skee-Ball World Championship. Contestants are pictured throwing balls in an early round. 

By Collin Hall

WILDWOOD – Neon light soaked Ed’s Funcade Sept. 4 while dozens of Skee-Ballers from around the region competed for the title of “Skee-Ball World Champion.” Over the past decade, Skee-Ball has become a Labor Day tradition in Wildwood. The game, and variations of it, is littered along the boardwalk, but Ed Pohlman, the owner of Ed’s Funcade near Mariner’s Pier, has turned the century-old game into a spectacle.
“Before I started this,” Ed said, “there were no real competitions for Skee-Ball. I wanted to bring Skee-Ball back in a big way.”
Ed is from Vineland, the same town as Joseph Simpson, the inventor of Skee-Ball. Before Ed started his own in 2011, the last Skee-Ball World Championship was held in 1930s Atlantic City. The tournament has since taken on a life of its own. Many families who competed said that they come to Cape May County year after year, just for Skee-Ball.
Jeremy Wolf, of Pennsylvania, spoke to the Herald in quieted tones at the back of the arcade. Rainbow lights from a nearby Cruisin’ Blast arcade cabinet lit up his white championship shirt as he talked. “I’m feeling really confident about tonight,” he said. Wolf is a five-time Skee-Ball World Champion; he said that his in-laws installed a Skee-Ball machine in their home so he could get more practice.
Wolf said that he practiced for about 20 hours in the days leading up to the tournament.
Wolf hoped for another win, but so did Elan Footerman, who stood right nearby. Footerman, a young man from Edison, wore a bright-blue trucker hat, and told the Herald that he was a two-time champion himself.
Excitement and hope were common even among non-champions. Mike, who did not give his last name, entered the tournament for the first time this year. Mike was psyched to possibly win the Boardwalk Cup trophy and the $1,000 grand prize.
Chris S., of Wilmington, Delaware, comes to Wildwood every Labor Day weekend with his two sons. “We didn’t know there was a Skee-Ball World Championship until we saw the sign outside. It’s really cool to be here,” he said.
Nearly a hundred people tried their hand at the game during the qualifying rounds. Players, many glistening with sweat from the night’s humidity, rolled balls along a smooth ramp into small, numbered holes with hopes of entering the finals.
Only 26 made it to the final rounds, which began at 10 p.m. sharp. A small crowd gathered outside the play area as Adam, the night’s referee, announced the rules to the qualifying contestants.
The final rounds were lightning fast. For the first few games, players were tasked with hitting a score that increased by 50 points each game. Those who did not score high enough were eliminated and given a second change during the loser’s rounds.
Most of the players have a distinct stance and form for their throws. Joe Wolf stands with his left foot forward and his right foot back. He always aims for the top-right hole, or “pocket.” He said that older Skee-Ball holes can get “eggish” from the constant impact.
Joe’s son, Jeremy, said that his stance mirrors his father’s. Jeremy has been playing Skee-Ball since he was six years old and said that keeping a calm attitude was key to doing well. “You can’t get nervous,” he said.
Footerman said that his stance was the “most unique” because he “doesn’t stand still.” He said, “I step forward and move my whole body when I throw.”
Rules changed as each round progressed, but the goal was always the same: roll the ball into the highest scoring hole. Mike played surprisingly well for a first timer. His scores rivaled those of Footerman and Wolf. The biggest rule shakeup came during the “three game playoff,” where players could only roll their ball when the referee yelled “ROLLLLL!”
This interrupted most of the player’s usual rhythms, and Mike was among the casualties.
After a long night of Skee Ball, Elan Footerman ultimately took home the Boardwalk Cup. Jeremy Wolf placed in the top three, as did long-time contestant Doug Wilson of Chichester, Pennsylvania. Wilson has entered the tournament year after year in hopes of winning but has never placed higher than second.
“It was fun, it was a fun experience. But I wanted it bad. I wanted it really bad,” Wilson said.
Footerman was surrounded by his family as Ed Pohlman handed him the coveted trophy. Footerman’s mother, father and sister hugged him after the big win; his whole family, sans his mother, also entered the night’s tournament. 
Footerman told the Herald that he is known as the “Skee-Ball Kid” online and among his friends. He won another Skee-Ball Tournament in Brooklyn but got his start as a kid in Point Pleasant.  
“It’s awesome to come here every year to see other people who find love in this niche sport,” Footerman said. “It’s something I look forward to every year, win or lose. 
Are you a Skee-Ball fanatic? Do you play a niche sport? Write Collin at chall@cmcherald.com.mailto:chall@cmcherald.com

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