PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse was packed Thursday afternoon, with kids playing marbles. They’re playing for the right to compete for scholarships, and a national championship in Wildwood, N.J.

The two winning boys and two girls will be decided by Saturday.

But don’t count them out in the next round. Allegheny County has produced 36 national champs.

The trend was started long ago by Walt Lease of Citi-Parks. He nurtured kids as if they were his own. He coached them all the way to Wildwood.

Amber Ricci, 16, never met her great grandfather, who passed away in 1995. But she lived his legacy, winning the national crown in 2008 – the year fellow county resident John Leffakis won the boy’s title.

“It’s really exciting,” she says now, “because you get to meet a whole bunch of different people you wouldn’t meet, a whole bunch of different people that you never wouldn’t have known without it. People from Tennessee or Reading, Pennsylvania, Maryland, like from all over the nation.”

Lease’s grandson, Ed Ricci, met his wife Maureen, now the local coordinator, at a marbles tournament in Wildwood.

“We teach kids from ages 7 to 14 how to play marbles,” Maureen says. “So it gives them another interest, you know, other than playing video games or X-Box, gives them other things to do outside.”

It all began with Lease, a man who cared.

“They weren’t necessarily bad kids,” his grandson recalls. “But they just wanted somebody to pay attention. So he taught them to play marbles, and showed an interest.”

Allegheny County Marbles Tournament Kicks Off At Courthouse (5/31/12)

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