NORTH CENTER — Skeevie Nicks, Skeely Dan and Jamie Skee Curtis walk into a bar ....
No joke. These are the aliases of actual members of Chicago's Skee League, where bad puns meets good times.
Launched in 2011, the league has grown to 180 players — that's 60 three-person teams — rolling three nights a week at Glascott's Saloon in Lincoln Park.
"I don't do any marketing," said Mike Fraser, league organizer (or Skee-EO in skee parlance). Slots get "full before I can even open up registration. We have very little turnover."
Patty Wetli tries to squeeze as many puns into one interview as possible while chatting about the Skee-ball league.
To keep up with demand, Fraser is now fielding applications for expansion teams at the league's second location, North Center's Windy City Inn, 2257 W. Irving Park Road. A shortened six-week sprint "skeeson" gets underway Tuesday and Wednesday.
"You have to see it," Fraser said of the sport's appeal. "We have built the greatest communiskee of people who come from all different backgrounds ... getting along, being friendly and competitive. It's made for an incredible experience."
Yes, he said "communiskee."
"The puns never get old," said Fraser. "And then they do. And then they come back again."
Superfan Jess "Queen Skee" Hanebury, who's been rolling with the league since its debut, said it's the camaraderie that's kept her signing on for skeeson after skeeson (sorry).
"I met so many new friends, that's the No. 1 thing I like about it, as opposed to other intramural sports. Because it's at a bar, you really do get to meet the other people," Hanebury said.
She and her friends have tried other activities like kickball, she said, but none hooked them the way Skee-Ball has.
"We've done volleyball — you go at 6 and leave at 6:45," she said. "This, people make a night of it. They get there as early as possible and stay all night."
Players credit Fraser for creating a tight-knit community that places a premium on not taking itself too seriously.
"I might get an award just for being happy every time I come," said A.J. Livesy. "It's nonsense ... but so much fun."
Which isn't to say the league isn't competitive — there is, after all, a championship trophskee at stake.
Hanebury, Livesy and pal Lindsay Stevens said they obsess over team and individual standings.
"We Gchat all day long about stats spreadsheets," said Hanebury, whose boyfriend has taken home the top prize and won't let her on his team "because I'm not good enough."
Tuesday night, a number of league veterans met at Windy City Inn to help christen the bar's new skee machine and were "freaking out," she said, over the unfamiliar playing field.
"Every machine is different. Every machine is like a snowflake," said Hanebury. "You have to know the intricacies."
The fanaticism of Skee-Ball's devotees caught Ron Prokaski, owner of Windy City Inn, by surprise.
"I'm pretty open to a lot of things ... but I wasn't really sure about Chuck E. Cheese and beer," said Prokaski. "You've got your trivia games and Golden Tee — how much more of a draw could this be?"
In fact, that's Fraser's biggest challenge: persuading bar owners to make room for skee.
"It's hard to find bars with space for a machine, and it needs to stay," he said. "These things weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds — you can't just move them around."
Count Prokaski among Skee-Ball's newest converts as his bar was overrun with skee-ers on a normally quiet weeknight.
"I've never seen people line up to play a game like that," he said. "I'm a believer."
To join the Skee League, click here. Cost is $75 per person. Windy City league nights are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Teams choose which night they prefer to play. Ten teams will play each night; matches last 45 minutes to an hour.
Punny team name required.