Using 13 androgynous plastic figurines to kick around a small ball inside a box is not everyone's idea of fun. But according to Garret Scherkenbach, if you fall in love with foosball, you can develop the hand-eye coordination and wrist skills necessary to succeed in a matter of months.
"I can't name another sport -- another game -- where everybody who starts out sucks," he said with a laugh.
Scherkenbach, who has lived in Colorado Springs for the past 12 years, first clutched the rods that control the plastic foosball men in 1971, when he was 11 years old. A new game room had opened up in Milwaukee, and the guy who ran the operation showed Scherkenbach and his friends how to play.
The youngsters soon started besting their mentor. At the 1974 Wisconsin State Fair, Scherkenbach won the 17-and-under class and, with a friend, took 5th place in the open doubles category.
For 34 years, foosball has remained Scherkenbach's passion. Currently ranked No. 31 in the world, this pro-master plays about once a week and travels the country to compete in big tournaments about six times a year.
His most impressive victory came in January of 1996. At a Minneapolis winner-take-all doubles tournament, he and his partner won a pair of Ford Ranger pickup trucks.
"The winning thing is nice," he said, "but the competition is more important."
Professional foosball players have a shot speed of less than two-tenths of a second and a dexterity that casual observers of the game find unfathomable. However, the popularity of video games has eclipsed games like foosball, Scherkenbach says. Yet the future is not without hope. On March 15, Scherkenbach started a weekly Tuesday night tournament at Union Station.
Also, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs foosball club maintains a Web site (www.csfoosball.com) to keep enthusiasts informed of results and good places to play across the state.
-- by Michael Beckel
photo by Christian Manzo