Skee ball rolls on to Philly’s social sporting scene

It’s a busy happy hour at Buffalo Billiards in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood.  The pool tables are full. So are the shuffleboard courts. And all the way in the back, patrons, many wearing matching t-shirts, swarm around two skee ball machines. It’s the United Social Sports skee ball league.

“Why not skee ball?” asks Nicole Hesson, skee ball hostess. “It’s so much fun. Tell me one person you know who doesn’t love skee ball.”

A fitting sentiment for someone living in the city where skee ball, that addictive staple of amusement arcades everywhere, was invented in 1909.By day, Hesson’s pursuing her doctorate in education administration at Temple. By night, she organizes the skee league — keeping score and giving away free drinks. She says the non-competitive atmosphere is what makes the sport great. “It’s funny to laugh at it if you don’t do well,” Hesson said. “Who cares? You had a good time, and you had some fun.” Well, some players care: These are the so-called high rollers who rack up high scores by getting their skee balls to land in the inner rings of the sloped target area.Naval engineer Fred Hovermann is team captain for the Alex Mack Daddies. They were undefeated last season until they lost in the championship tilt. He says each player has a strategy for success. “I like to have two balls in my hands,” said Hovermann. “I look right toward the center of the lane and I roll off to the side. My ball kind of curves up right into the middle.” Other strategies include: beer in left hand, beer in right hand, and a sip of beer between each rolled ball. Beers aside, Hovermann says playing skee ball for him is a nostalgic tip of the hat to his childhood vacations spent at the arcade down the Shore. Registration for the league is open until Wednesday.

Another league is trying to get started at Franklin’s in the city’s East Falls neighborhood.  That establishment says it’s looking for a pretty good surge in registrations by this Sunday if plans for a league are to proceed.

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