103-year-old game of Skee-Ball gets tournament treatment in Portland

Posted Jan. 29, 2013, at 6:06 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2013, at 8:35 a.m.

Skee-Ball, that ticket-spewing summer pastime of the seaside arcade, was invented and patented by J.D. Estes of Philadelphia in 1909. The first national championship was held in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1932. The first electronic lanes were manufactured in 1977.

To those Skee-Ball milestones, history now can add the first Portland Skee-Ball Championship, held at Bayside Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

Organizer Sam Heck, the Victoria Mansion’s director of development by day, had the idea a few weeks ago.

“I was at work on one of those snowy days,” he said, remembering how his mind drifted to familiar scenes of summer. “It got me thinking about Skee-Ball.”

He circulated his tournament idea on Facebook. The next thing he knew, he had a whole raft of friends, and friends of friends, interested in taking part.

“It started out as a joke,” he said Sunday, shrugging his shoulders.

Thirteen bowlers ended up taking part in the tournament Sunday. Heck and his wife, Katie Worthing, kept track of scores through an elaborate bracketing system that included a consolation round.

There was no entry fee. Instead, participants each brought an unloved holiday gift. The winner got first pick from the pile of treasures.

Bridget Kahn won first place. She chose an enormous Care Bears alarm clock. Margaret Kennedy placed second and Sarah Bartlett secured third place.

As congratulations were passed around, Heck could be heard making plans for next year’s tournament. Brad Feury, who somehow finished in fourteenth place out of thirteen contestants, immediately inserted two quarters into a lane and began to practice.


The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Skee-Ball is 113 years old. It is 103 years old.

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