Shaler girl captures marbles national title

| Monday, July 1, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

Emily Cavacini is ending her competitive youth marbles career on top.

Emily, 11, of Shaler Township, has been playing marbles for five years and last month was crowned the girls champion of the 90th annual National Marbles Tournament held in Wildwood, N.J., from June 16 to 22.

“It was very exciting,” Emily said of her winning moment. “Everyone ran up on the board and dumped me with water and was screaming.”

Emily became a mibster, or marble shooter, after watching her cousins play and compete in the sport. She started playing and soon was hooked. She has competed in the Allegheny County Marbles Tournament and advanced to the National Marbles Tournament three times. The first two years she finished third.

Over the course of the four-day tournament held on the sandy beaches of Ringer Stadium, in Wildwood, mibsters play more than 1,200 games of marbles. During the tournament, Emily had to fight to stay in the lead after she tied to get into the finals, and tournament organizers had to schedule a tie-breaker playoff game.

“It was very emotional for me,” said Jamie Cavacini, Emily's mother, about watching her daughter compete. “She has worked so hard for the last three or four years.

“The determination in her face, you could see it, she wanted to win … When she got into finals, she didn't let herself get down. I think when she realized she had a chance, she was determined.”

Emily practices marbles three times per week, and in the two weeks before the national tournament, she was playing games and practicing shots almost every day with her cousins and friends in the marbles practice ring set up under the Bloomfield Bridge in Pittsburgh.

Emily said the hard work is necessary for the challenging tournament.

“It was a lot of hard work to get from the semifinals to the finals … and in the finals you had to concentrate a lot to make shot,” Emily said. “It took a lot of concentration because you had to figure out if you had to put backspin on it or hit it off to the right side or the bottom or top of the marble.”

Now that Emily won the national championship she no longer can participate in this tournament and now plans to concentrate her athletic endeavors on softball, soccer and basketball. However, she still has the option of competing in the World Marbles Championship, in Maryland, which is open to mibsters who have won the national tournament or mibsters who are age 15 and older and no longer eligible to play in the national tournament.

Cavacini also might volunteer her knowledge and time refereeing marbles games or coaching in the county program, which Ed Ricci, director of the county program, said is one of the program's strengths.

In the past 10 years, mibsters from Allegheny County have taken the boys or girls national champion title 10 times.

“Since we've had so many winners, we have a lot of past champs and past players who help out,” Ricci said.

Emily's coach, Dan LaGamba Jr., of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood, was a national runner-up.

“The kids put the time and the practice in, and in Allegheny County, we're fortunate enough that the county sponsors it so we can go to these different locations and take the marbles to the kids.

“It's always great whenever I can call the county and tell them we have another champ.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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