Skee-Ball League Sees Serious Rollers Duke it Out in Lincoln Park
LINCOLN PARK — Teams huddled in suspense as the final roller needed to sink seven out of 10 balls in the lofty 100-point slot to win the fourth Skee-Ball league championship Saturday afternoon.
When Mike Fraser, the creator of the SKEE League, saw the other team's roller miss for the fourth time in that final round, he knew he was going to retire as a champion.
Fraser's three-man team, Afternoon Skeelite, was crowned victor of the team competition of the uber-serious league that has grown to include 175 rollers who pack Glascott's Saloon three nights a week to launch the little red balls.
"I'm retired now. I'm going out on top. I'm done," Fraser said.
The league, which started in 2011, keeps track of its rollers' statistics — such as weekly averages, 100-point tosses and perfect nine-for-nine 50-point games — on its consistently updated website. It even provides the top 32 rollers with a "players card" featuring their photo and stats.
"Skee-Ball used to be something I did when I was a kid. I went to Chuck E. Cheese's," said Kevin McHeen, a Wicker Park resident and a member of Afternoon Skeelite. "Everyone comes from different places. They all come here."
Saturday marked the end of the fourth season at Glascott's, and while Fraser plans on a fifth season starting in April at the Lincoln Park bar, he also wants to expand the league to other areas of the city.
"I'm booked before I even say anything," he said. "There's still so much of Chicago that doesn't know about it."
The league draws players from all over the city to Lincoln Park each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and many of the rollers who have been with the group since the start say the friendships they've made are unmatched in other sporting leagues.
"I've been in bowling leagues and kickball leagues, but I've never been in a league that is so friendly," said Ukrainian Village resident Jess Hanebury.
When a roller, regardless of the team, gets on a streak of sinking 40-, 50- or 100-point balls, it's a big deal. So big that nine straight means the roller is awarded a wristband, which many of the 175 players sport at each outing as a sign of their dominance over the 15-foot lane.
The league was the first of its kind in Chicago when Fraser launched it, and has grown to the point where at least one member takes a two-hour train ride into Lincoln Park to participate.
"It's serious with stats. It's like this ridiculous joke in the best way," said Katie Nierzwicki, who was the first woman in the league to roll a perfect 900 game two weeks ago. "I've been looking forward to this for so long."
During this weekend's "Super Saturday," which included a 64-team, NCAA-style individual tournament and the crowning of the top three-person team, the league raised $800 for one team member's aunt who is being treated for a rare type of cervical cancer.
The league pooled together some prizes for a makeshift raffle, including one free season of Skee-Ball, three Chicago Bulls tickets and three tickets to a Lady Gaga concert.