June 6, 1997

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Marbles players shoot for the top in tournament

By ANTHONY BREZNICAN (uncredited)

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Teen-age athlete Taylor Hahn spent all year practicing for his chance at a championship, and he says it's hard not to let the pressure get to him.

He does a lot of worrying about what many consider to be a kids' game, marbles. Taylor is under extra pressure because his sister, Allison, won the tournament last year.

``I just like to have fun,'' said Taylor, now in his eighth year in the sport. ``It's pretty competitive here, but you can't get frustrated.''

His mother, Lynn Hahn, said the game teaches patience and lets kids ``learn to have a good time.''

``If they don't win, then that's OK. You learn to just keep trying,'' Mrs. Hahn said.

Forty boys and girls aged 11 to 14 competed Thursday in the first day of a three-day Allegheny County marbles tournament at the county courthouse.

Contestants launched ``shooters'' at the smaller, grape-colored ``object marbles'' to try to knock them out of a ring 10 feet across. The winner will compete in national finals in Wildwood, N.J., on June 22-26.

Pittsburgh has a tradition of champions. Kim Shuttleworth went to the national finals in 1994 and her friend, Stephanie Zlokas, won in 1995. The girls, both 16, now judge the Pittsburgh tournament.

They credit their success to their late coach, Walt Lease, who also ran the tournament for more than 50 years. Asked what she learned from her marbles coach, Zlokas answered, ``Practice.''

``The most important thing we learned is to have fun,'' said Zlokas. Spectator Ryan Kearn, 11, said he watched the tournament because he had ``nothing better to do.'' His mom operates a snack stand nearby.

``I don't know,'' Ryan said. ``Maybe I'd like to try it sometime.''