All across North Dakota in 1937, boys and girls age 14 or younger were preparing to go head to head in a great marble tournament.
Depending on size of the community, schools held tournaments first; then cities held their own tournaments, waiting for the best player to shoot his or her way to the top. Next, county tournaments separated, and then, tri-county tournaments; for example, Emmons, Logan and McIntosh counties were to face off against each other. Finally, the top shooters were sent to Grand Forks on May 15 to compete for district and state championship.
Marble Champs were "out for blood" in Bismarck. There were reports of expected "kibitzing" from the grade-schoolers. "If the excitement of the school tournaments last Saturday is any indication, police squads will have to be called out … to quell the inter-school riots as fans root for their champs," the Bismarck Capital reported.
It was a big deal in Ashley, too. After the paper printed a listing of rules, and a listing of awards to come, in the results of a long tourney, one boy and one girl were to travel on to the tourney for McIntosh County. It was on this day that Ashley hosted a vicious, county play-off against Wishek. Wishek won; then the problems began.
Some of those involved in the tournament found that it was unfair: "Members of the committee, consisting of four boys … protested on the grounds that the county marble tournament was not satisfactory, and because of the cold weather, should never have been played."
Indeed, the weather was particularly bad that week, and papers across the state reported roaring gales that carried sleet, snow and dust with them to different parts of the state. Whether or not that affected the outcome of the tournament was debatable—but it was debatable enough that they decided to leave all decisions about the tournament's outcome up to the county supervisor.
It didn't matter in the end, though. The big game in Grand Forks—and, in fact, every game he played there—was won by 11-year-old William Stroh, from Mandan. He beat Howard Moen, a 13-year-old from Mayville, by 3-1 in the final match. Third place went to Cornet Haroldson of Aneta, fourth to Dale Butterfield of Stanley, and fifth to the "southpaw" Bob Odney of Grand Forks.
In this case, one tournament caused the whole state to lose its marbles.
By Sarah Walker
Ashley Tribune, Thursday, April 8, 1937
The Bismarck Capital, Thursday, May 6, 1937
Ashley Tribune, Thursday, April 22, 1937, p.1
Ashley Tribune, Thursday, April 15, 1937, p.1
Ashley Tribune, Thursday, April 29, 1937, p.1
The Wishek News, Thursday, April 29, 1937, p.1
Grand Forks Herald, Saturday, May 15, 1937, evening ed.
Grand Forks Herald, Sunday, May 16, 1937