If you read any publication other than the one and only competitive crokinole blog, you probably saw multiple year-in-review and decade-in-review pieces throughout December. This blog will be no different, except for the fact that we’ll actually wait for the decade to end before we recap all that it had to offer.
But is it possible to simply summarize an entire 10 years? Even in a super niche avocation there’s a dense story to tell.
On January 1st 2010 the game of crokinole really did feel like it was in the midst of a strong upward swing in popularity, at least in a domestic sense. The World Crokinole Championship had just had another year with a strong attendance record. The tournament was drawing crowds from neighbouring communities, and still riding the wave of interest roused by The Crokinole Movle in 2006. The National Crokinole Association had just began their second year of operation after an exceptional premier season that garnered media attention and successfully united and spurred the creation of dozens of crokinole clubs in Ontario.
And it wasn’t just in Ontario that crokinole seemed to be experiencing a rebirth. Communities either began to pop up, or at least use the internet to advertise their long-standing existence, in far away places like mainland British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.
The game was thriving as people who fondly remembered crokinole from their youth rediscovered the game as they learned the existence of clubs and tournaments.
At the start of the 2010s, outside of Canada, the crokinole community was a vast empty chamber. At the time there were supposedly some players in Germany, but little information seemed to float around to confirm this fact. Meanwhile, a Chinese Crokinole Championship was held for a couple of years, which seemed to indicate crokinole was growing into new markets with new players. But closer inspection revealed this event took place among Canadian-Expatriates who were looking to bring a piece of Canada with them to a foreign country.
The online crokinole community was new, fresh, raw and uncertain of itself. The NCA (and the now defunct CrokinoleDepot forum) capitalized in the early days to build connections between new clubs and tournaments. This online community also experienced, rather fervently, a tall tale of a supposedly masterful group of crokinole players. The Eagan and Fitzgeralds, a group so superior in crokinole ability that they wouldn’t dare stoop to the lows of competing outside their own mysterious inner circle. A lens of hindsight reveals numerous flags that expose the story as ludicrous, but also comical how the tale grew ever larger thanks to the intricate exertion of one member of the crokinole community who is no longer active.
The general feeling among crokinole promoters at the start of the decade was that awareness of the game would only spread further, and it would grow on the backs of nostalgia and word of mouth.
But that wasn’t the case. While dedicated crokinole players in the NCA and WCC developed friendships and forged a collective, only in small numbers were new people finding the game and the competitive landscape. At times the numbers joining were smaller than those who unfortunately left the game, be it for health reasons or a general decline in interest.
Even as cool things began to happen abroad and online, the game was dipping in popularity, and it was hard not to be pessimistic about it. By the time 2014 came around, numbers in club attendance and NCA tournaments had declined from prior years. The World Crokinole Championship actually hit lower attendance than it had in the previous 10 years.
That negative feeling was partially offset by intriguing developments globally. If one looked hard enough online, and frequently used translator applications, one could find facebook posts that declared Dennis Vrints and Bert Costermans champions in a crokinole tournament in Belgium, or find Áron Deme was winning an event in Budapest, Hungary.
Meanwhile in the USA there was palpable interest in the game in Ohio, Conneticut, Kentucky, LA, Massachusetts and New York. Crokinole even took centre stage at a popular gaming convention known as PAX East.
But with the flame of crokinole dwindling in its very own birthplace, it felt like it would only be a couple of years until the pillars of competitive crokinole ceased to exist.
In June of 2014, Public Radio International did a story on crokinole. Again, another very cool moment for the game, but Nathan Walsh, who was interviewed in the piece, found it hard to smile in a moment of sunshine when gloomy clouds dominated the future, and practically predicted the end was near.
In the way of controversial decisions, a long debate was seemingly completed at the beginning of the decade, while another started brewing at the end.
In the Fall of 2010, the collective braintrust of crokinole minds that made up the NCA successfully lobbied the WCC to align rulebooks, which most significantly resulted in the world of competitive crokinole definitively switching to damage-done rather than damage-repaired.
And to close the decade we heard some voices grow louder to exclaim their preference to reduce, or eliminate entirely, the use of powder wax. Voices carrying this same message have been around since powder wax was first used, but the improved quality and consistency of both boards and discs lay additional credence to these arguments. Nothing has been solved yet, but perhaps The Wax Wars will rage on in the 2020s.
Changing of the Guard
In the 2010s a number of previously key figures stepped away from the game. While the facilitation of many individual clubs would change throughout the decade, NCA founder, Greg Matthison, resigned in his role as NCA Chair. The World Crokinole Championship committee experienced nearly a complete turnover, with only two committee members remaining for the entirety of the decade. Additionally the voice of the WCC, emcee Ken Wettlaufer, the long-time trophy-maker, Ken Roth, and iconic board-maker, Willard Martin, retired from their roles. There were even big changes on the player front as the two dominant players of the 2000s, Joe Fulop and Brian Cook, stepped out of the spotlight in the 2010s for different reasons.
And in time there was mourning as well, as prominent members, players and builders of the game were lost. With due respect to all those who enjoyed crokinole and blessed the game with their participation, some special regard will be given to Wayne Kelly whose efforts led to a best-selling book on the game, Dr. Bruce Halliday, who along with Kelly can be credited in part for the creation of the World Championships, and to Clif Antypowich and Roy Younker who inspired much of the crokinole interest that can still be found today in BC and PEI respectively.
Even in their loss, their spirit for crokinole was carried on in new innovations and energy for the game. CrokinoleCentre chronicled the highlights of the competitive circuit through articles and video. CrokinoleDepot became globally renown, inventing the concept of 20-holders and supplying the game with disc colours that stretched beyond the traditional black and unpainted. Peter Tarle unloaded a burden on all tournament organizers by inventing a reliable game clock. And Jeremy Tracey took the baton of board building and quickly became arguably the most prominent crokinole board maker.
From the gloom of the mid-decade, interest in the game came in the form of new faces and players who didn’t have familiarity with crokinole from a classic rural Canadian upbringing. These faces seemed to come out of nowhere and contributed greatly to growing the game. Dale Henry attended a Hamilton event on a whim, and soon after had invited the entire community of crokinole to the Tuscarora Nation. Daniel Létay and Zsolt Rimár tirelessly promoted the game in Hungary, and later welcomed Europe and the World to Budapest. A group from upstate New York adopted the game and have created a remarkably unique crokinole experience. Meanwhile in Europe new groups of English, Spaniards, Italians, Germans and Dutch have all create their own crokinole events to be envied.
In it all, crokinole’s interest has reached levels never before seen. Registrations in many crokinole tournaments, particularly the World Championships, have reached historically high levels. Not one, but two famous Youtubers made videos about the game (one has since been deleted, and viewer discretion is advised for the other). Meanwhile popular board game reviewers have added greater legitimacy to the enjoyment of crokinole. And multiple competitive videos reached unbelievable viewership numbers. While the game will never see big payouts, as corporate sponsors are unlikely to flock to this game, some players have become relative celebrities with online fandoms.
In the 10 years the game dipped in popularity and then slowly built anew. It’s a bit astonishing in retrospect.
As much as the game stands stronger today, challenges are still existent and daunting.
With interest in anything there will always be those who attempt to grab easy profits from honest enthusiasm. It takes little effort to find those selling products at outlandish prices to individuals naively unaware that a more reasonable price exists. They’ll mistake their good fortunes as rightfully earned, rather than well earned on the backs of others. They are heroes of ruthless capitalism, but in little way are they good adverts for the game, and the risk of this activity will only grow if Crokinole continues to find a wider and more captivated audience.
And while this audience does grow, it is easy to see it is largely populated by caucasian males. Crokinole isn’t politics, Hollywood or a corporate executive office, which are all places where a healthy does of diversity would certainly have a substantially greater societal impact than could be seen from crokinole. But it is a cautionary flag that should bring thoughts towards whether the crokinole community is every bit as welcoming as it can be.
Lastly, the competitive crokinole world has, and likely will always, survive on the efforts of volunteers. It’s easy to take these efforts for granted. Some of those volunteers have been at this for a long time, and are strained through several years of trying endeavours, no longer energized by fresh eyes and aspirational hopes. Even with the energy for crokinole today, many tournaments and clubs stand the risk of folding should one or two of these dedicated individuals, long since having given their fair share back to game, withdraw from their posts.
The Next 10 Years
In some ways this crokinole decade begins just like the last one, with a feeling of optimism that the game is burgeoning to become something like it never has before. One never truly knows what the future will bring, and those claiming to know should be met with skepticism. The game of crokinole could expand beyond expectations, or its popularity may dip ever more violently than before.
Regardless of your leniency to the old glass-half-full/half-empty analogy, an objective view would reveal that never before has the game of crokinole been so well known world-wide. Never before has crokinole had so many clubs, tournaments and avenues for which enthusiasts can exercise their enjoyment of the game. Never before has there been so many boards being produced. Never before has the game of crokinole been so accessible to reach out to new players.
Never before has the game of crokinole had so much potential.