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4:06 PM / Saturday February 4, 2023

12 Dec 2018

In Praise Of Knucklebones

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December 12, 2018 Category: Sports Posted by:

A group of ladies took it to the floor… and the table… for a hearty game of jacks last Saturday.

By Denise Clay

In the room at the Cobbs Creek Environmental Education Center in Southwest Philadelphia, Terrance Johnson stood out in his black and white striped shirt and the whistle around his neck.

Usually, Johnson only wears this outfit for the basketball games he referees. But last Saturday, he had another assignment.

He was refereeing a jacks tournament. That’s right, jacks. The metal things that looked like stars that folks would often use a ball to attempt to pick up.
“I’ll be looking for illegal touches and the other simple stuff, like trying to use two hands,” Johnson said.

Referee Terrance Johnson and organizer Alicia Burbage share a laugh as the jacks tournament begins.

But how would it compare to watching young men run up and down the court?

“[The boys] are not as competitive,” Johnson said. “Not hardly.”
About 20 women, most of them no younger than 35, gathered at the Education Center for a friendly, yet competitive game of jacks.

The women came from all walks of life.

Some were retirees. Others educators. Still others political consultants, attorneys, and even a legislative chief of staff.

Education consultant Quibila Devine takes on attorney Danyl Patterson in a game of jacks during last weekend’s jacks tournament. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)

Shortly after the 2016 Presidential elections, tournament organizer Alicia Burbage noticed a sense of unease among her friends.

Like many Americans from marginalized communities, they were concerned about the adversity they might face with Donald Trump in the White House.

A Facebook meme changed the conversation, Burbage said.

“People started sharing their childhood memories of playing jacks,” she said. “Then people started selling woof tickets. I had a place where we could have a tournament, so I said let’s get it! A woman named Gloria Chaplin who was also a jacks player said she was in and asked if she could help organize it. Fifteen people signed on and 14 people showed up.”

Referee Johnson monitors the action on the jacks table as Devine and Patterson discuss their game with Burbage. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)

Referee Johnson monitored the action as one group of women played on a table and another played on the floor.

The action was fast and furious as the air was peppered with such phrases as “a kiss (two jacks intertwined) is a miss!” and “no using two hands!”

The clink of jacks hitting the floor and balls bouncing also filled the air.

That is, if you could hear it over the trash talking.

JoeAnn Watson, winner of the jacks tournament. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)

The winner from the table group and the winner from the floor group took each other on for the championship and JoeAnn Walton of West Philadelphia took home top prize. It was her second win.

“This is one of my favorite childhood games,” she said. “I’ve always loved jacks.”

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