Philly's Game of Stones

WHAT IS IT with guys and their balls?

They get to talking about them and they just can't stop. There I was last week at La Colombe coffee shop at 6th and Market with two of them - guys, not balls - and they just went on and on:

Size matters, although bigger is not always better. (If you say so.)

You can't just start tossing them around with no strategy. (Indeed. That sounds downright dangerous.)

A few bad throws and there goes your confidence and your game.

Yeah . . . I said game.

What, you thought this was another column about porny prosecutors and judges? Sorry, dirty birds, this isn't nearly as scandalous - or pathetic - as Porngate.

This is a wholesome column about a few Philly buddies who went camping over Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and, fueled by time, friendly competition and beer, created a game called Stones.

Two of the creators, Chris Kinka, 38, and John Janick, 42, could give you a lengthy and enthusiastic primer on the game. There's also a six-page PDF of the rules on their site www.phillystones.com.

But the quick version is: bocce meets golf meets chess on an indoor or outdoor obstacle course that could include anything from water to sand or fire. It's two-on-two players throwing their balls (or stones) in an attempt to have them rest closest to the smaller target ball. Winners get bragging rights and a trophy.

The game has come a long way from when Kinka, Janick and another buddy were just looking for a way to amuse themselves at a campsite. Back then, the rules, which used to include making sure everyone was holding a beer to keep an equally lubricated playing field, were added and tweaked and written down on a pizza box with an ember because no one had a pen.

It evolved every year until camping took a back seat to the game, and suddenly there were leagues and tournaments (one in Ontario) and opening ceremonies with fireworks.

In 2012, the first public course was built on the grounds of Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, N.Y. Two years later, the Gwynedd Racquet Club in North Wales, Montgomery County started the first private Stones Club. Prism Brewery in Lansdale will open the first indoor Stones course in 2016.

But until Philly neighbors Kinka and Janick entered - and won - the Philadelphia Commission on Parks and Recreation's Pitch Your Passion Philly contest to get new ideas into the park, Philly didn't have an official course. That finally will change next year, when Fairmount Park becomes the home of the first bona fide Philly Stones course.

A cleanup of the site, near the park's Boxer's Trail, is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Email info@phillystones.com to volunteer.

"We were really struck with how, with minimal investment and no infrastructure, they've really created a dedicated and enthusiastic following," said Andy Denison, one of the commissioners.

Among the dedicated followers is Sean Smiley of West Chester. Smiley and his Stones partner, Harry Cusick, currently hold the championship trophy for the Philly Open held in West Chester. The trophy sort of looks like a pimped-out birdhouse, but that doesn't dampen his enthusiasm for the game.

"This game will grow bigger each year," he predicted.

That's the plan. Janick and Kinka would love to get the game into every recreation center in the city. But their big dream is to turn vacant lots into neighborhood Stones courses.

In a city full of neighborhood pride, Kinka said, what better way to encourage healthy competition - "especially when all our sports teams are horrible right now." Amen.

Besides the name, which is trademarked, the guys also have copyrighted the rules. They recently began manufacturing a specialty set of stones (or balls) for the game after they realized that three different-size balls worked best. They funded the first order but are looking for corporate sponsorship for the next ones.

"We need to get balls in people's hands!" said Kinka.

See what I mean? Back to the balls.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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