At just 7 years old, Jerry Piquette fell in love with the game of marbles. During recess, Piquette and his friends would gather around a makeshift ring and compete to win each other’s marbles.
As a beginner, Piquette frequently lost to more experienced players, relying on his older brother to win back his most prized possessions. Yet, Piquette was not deterred by failure. In fact, the game would come to play a major role in the marble enthusiast’s future.
In 1991, Piquette’s daughter — an elementary school teacher — invited him into her classroom. Inevitably, the game of marbles came up in discussion. After realizing that his childhood passion was completely foreign to the class, Piquette took action to preserve the game which he once loved.
“Kids had forgotten all about marbles,” Piquette explained. “So I started teaching marbles every place I went.”
What began as an infrequent series of lessons quickly blossomed into an organized club. Each year, Piquette introduced hundreds of young students to the game via the physical education programs at the Gunnison and Crested Butte elementary schools. Students who desired to play more were invited to a casual marbles club hosted by Piquette in one of the dorms on the Western State Colorado University campus.
From year to year, the marbles club has anywhere from 25-65 participants. In total, Piquette estimates he has coached upwards of 1,000 kids.
After learning about a national marbles competition hosted in New Jersey, Piquette aspired to provide his students with a chance to compete. Students of the casual club who demonstrated a particular propensity for marbles were offered a spot in a more competitive club with the focus of competing at the national level.
Since 1991, Piquette has taken 50 players to nationals — most recently, that included 12-year-old Spencer Hays, who competed in New Jersey last week.
Hays — and his two older sisters, Joslyn (16) and Alexandra
(18) — joined the marbles community in 2010. While the Hays sisters are now too old to compete, they each managed to take fourth place at nationals in previous years. Yet this year, Spencer left his own legacy by tying for third in the national competition.
In his 21 years as a coach, only two of Piquette’s students have won the national title. However, for Piquette and his players, the game of marbles is not about winning.
“One of the things we always stress is good sportsmanship and good behavior,” he said.
Evidently, Piquette’s focus on integrity and kindness has resonated with the kids — his club has received the National Best Sport Award for marbles seven times.
Sally Hays — mother of Spencer, Joslyn and Alex — appreciates Piquette’s effort to create a welcoming and friendly environment.
“It’s about being a better person,” she explained. “Jerry doesn’t care how they actually do.”
The mother of three noted that in addition to learning respect and sportsmanship, her kids have made friends from all around the country.
However, Piquette’s desire to provide students with the opportunity to compete has been a dream not easily realized. The national competition — and associated expenses — are not a small bill to foot. Each year one of Piquette’s players went to nationals, the coach hosted an elaborate yard sale to cover the costs.
“I’ve sold everything from boats to motorhomes,” Piquette recalled.
In total, Piquette has raised just under a quarter of a million dollars for his club.
Unfortunately, Piquette will be taking a year off from nationals in the upcoming season. The decision was made in part due to the financial pressure of the competition. However, Piquette still wants to be a part of the club — and continue coaching kids like Spencer, who he believes will be the one to beat next year.
“If Spencer wants to play next year, we will find the money to get him to nationals,” said Piquette.