Skee-ball league rolls into Chicago

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For most of us, the last time we played a game of skee-ball was when we were kids at the local arcade or Chuck E. Cheese. If you were competing, the prize was glory, pride and, most likely, tokens to trade in for novelty items. Now the old favorite is back but for a different audience. Skee-Nation, an organized skee-ball league, has started up in Chicago.

Skee-Nation competitions have the same casual atmosphere as the arcade, but the competition is greater and the prizes better. Brandon Harris and Brian Farrell, both 30, created the organization after they grew tired of experiencing the same old bar scene. As the league began to expand, Harris got in touch with his high school friend Mike Fraser. Fraser is now the director of league operation and says Chicago is just one of many cities joining the skee-ball craze.

“Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, Atlanta, Louisville and Boston are currently the only cities with leagues,” Fraser said. “We are hoping to have a ‘Skee-Nation invasion.'”

Before the end of the year Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Philadelphia will all be adding their own leagues.

A skee-ball season spans 10 weeks. Team play is Wednesdays or Thursdays at Flat Rock Tavern in Lincoln Park. According to Fraser, it was difficult to find a willing venue owner due to the size of the machine.

“These things are big, hundreds of pounds,” Fraser said. “They don’t easily roll away.”

After finally securing a venue, the next hurdle was convincing people to take the league seriously. Most people were excited but skeptical.

“Everyone thinks it’s an awesome idea but [some] people don’t think it’s happening,” Fraser said. “Some people didn’t think that a [skee-ball league] was going on.”

The league launched Oct. 12, and Fraser already has strong support. Prior to official league play, Skee-Nation has held several events to bring out participants, with “free skee” nights. While Fraser expected 40 people, he found crowds of between 60-120 people.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Fraser said. “I’ve received over 350 emails and have over 40 teams registered.”

The league is comprised mostly of young professionals. Fraser described the crowds that have come out as, “mostly younger people [who want to be social] after work and get out of the house.” Since the play is held at bars, the atmosphere remains pretty relaxed.

“The competition is friendly competitiveness, that’s the thing,” Fraser said. “Literally everyone can do it. No one can be that bad. Everyone is on the same playing level. It’s pretty equal opportunity in terms of [athletic ability].”

Fraser also said, “Smack talk is, of course, encouraged.”

The friendly social atmosphere is one that Jonathan Riggins, an intern at Skee-Nation, has found to enjoy. Riggins, a senior at DePaul and sports management major, was picked up for an internship after applying for Skee-Nation on the DePaul Experience website. What Riggins likes most about the job is “the fact that you’re allowed to drink, sensibly, of course.”

According to Fraser, the drinking is part of the atmosphere, allowing patrons to be in touch, socially, with participants.

Riggins greatly anticipates the start of league play. Now that the season has kicked off, Riggins will be keeping scores and statistics for the teams in the league, which he describes as his “forte.” According to Fraser, that’s what makes the league so fun.

“We have [on our website] a magazine called Rolling Times highlighting a player … [or] fun, dorky things that make the league unique.”

Although the official season kicks off Oct. 12, Skee-Nation will be adding make-up play for those interested in registering late.

With prizes like gift cards and concerts tickets, Skee-Nation allows the childhood favorite to easily become an adulthood game as well. If you’d like to get a team going, send an email to chicago@skeenation.com.