For more than two decades, Jerry Piquette has dedicated countless hours and more than a quarter million dollars to something so small it fits in your pocket. The culprit of Piquette’s passion is none other than the modest marble — a small globe perfect for playing games, which for years evaded children as technology took off.
“They were playing with spheres clear back to the pyramids,” explained Piquette, who has served as the coach for the marbles club — the Mibsters — in Gunnison for more than 20 years.
Piquette was recently honored by the City of Gunnison with a resolution recognizing his commitment to the community as a marbles coach. The marbles rings at Jorgensen Park are now known as the Jerry Piquette Marbles Rings.
It all started in 1991 when Piquette’s daughter — an elementary school teacher in Loma, Colo. — invited him into her classroom to teach students of his time growing up in a two-room schoolhouse in Westcliffe, Colo.
Piquette mentioned marbles and soon realized not a kid in the room knew the game.
“A little boy raised his hand and said, ‘What are marbles?’” Piquette recalled. “And I realized it was something that the kids had lost.”
For Piquette, the game of marbles was a popular past time. Having grown up in simpler times — with no televisions or cellphones — one of the main forms of entertainment took place crouched down low playing for fun or for “keeps.”
“Every recess, that’s what we did — we’d scrape away a place in the dirt and pile a few marbles and play,” explained Piquette. “I wasn't a very good marble player, but I had a younger brother who was — so I would go to school, lose all my marbles and he would win them back.”
After learning marbles hadn't maintained their popularity, it seemed only natural to begin bringing marbles everywhere he went, teaching children the game again. And soon he had his own club of kids in Gunnison, each of whom learned to love the sport.
As his club began to grow, a friend showed Piquette a Smithsonian Magazine with an article on marbles and information about a national marbles tournament in Wildwood, N.J.
Today, with more than two decades under his belt as a coach, two of Piquette’s students have won the national title.
“When we first started to go to nationals, everything was cutthroat out there,” said Piquette, recalling coaches that encouraged cheating and psyching out players.
Piquette took a different approach. Rather than bully opponents, he offered support. Instead of intimidation, he promoted gratitude.
“You encourage the people you’re playing with and against,” he said. “You thank the people you’re working with. You don’t ever brag, and you don’t ever complain — those are the things I teach.”
He taught his kids they should always say thank you to everyone who gave their time too — an act that altered the competition altogether by inspiring a National Best Sport Award.
While winning is never at the forefront of Piquette’s interest, one of his fondest memories is his first national champion in 2006. One of his Mibsters, Melissa (Ashwood) Robinson, took the title after years of practicing the art of the game.
“It was literally my dream come true since kindergarten,” said Robinson, who started playing marbles after learning of the sport from her brother Mike.
“You’re practicing for hours and hours every week and it can get really difficult to keep with it,” explained Robinson. “But Jerry was one of those people who always saw the potential in you and had encouragement to keep you going.”
For Piquette, Robinson’s epic win (losing only seven games out of more than 80 over the course of the competition) was a moment he’ll never forget. But more than anything, it’s his lessons on sportsmanship that stick with Robinson.
In addition to becoming a national champion, Robinson also was the only Mibster to win the National Best Sport Award, which comes with a $1,000 prize, two years in a row.
For Robinson, who carried her sportsmanship on to both gymnastics and diving, the lessons learned are lifelong.
“That’s my reward,” smiled Piquette. “Just watching kids grow.”
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)