For 11-year-old Emily Cavacini of Shaler, marbles is a family sport. Sometimes, that means beating your family.
For the second year in a row, Emily, a fifth-grader at Shaler Elementary School, faced her cousin, 14-year-old Brooke Narr, in the Allegheny County Marbles Championship finals -- and won, again.
"It was really hard," Emily said. "But we both said we didn't even care who won, because both of us will get to go to the national championship."
The cousins are no stranger to the event, held annually in Wildwood, N.J. Emily has qualified twice -- both times finishing in the final four. Brooke's older sister, Bailey Narr, was national champion of the girls' division in 2011.
The Cavacini and Narr families are among many in Allegheny County who consider marbles an important pastime.
The free Allegheny County marbles program attracts more than 200 youngsters up to age 14 every spring to learn, practice and compete for the county championship. It is organized by Ed and Maureen Ricci of Shaler.
The enthusiasm of Mr. Ricci's mother and grandfather helped the county to become a marbles powerhouse for nearly a century.
Since the national championship's inception in 1922, 33 of its winners have been from the Pittsburgh area.
Emily's supporters say she's determined to be the 34th.
Her mother, Jamie, Cavacini, has watched her daughter fall in love with the sport.
"She normally practices for eight to ten hours a week," Ms. Cavacini said.
"And now that the championship is coming up, she's working at it for hours every day."
But being a mibster -- marble shooter -- isn't the only activity at which the fifth-grader excels. Emily plays softball, soccer and basketball.
"That girl is constantly running from practice to practice," said marbles coach Dan Lagamba.
"I always tell her 'you're going to stay young forever if you keep this up.'"
The four-day national competition will begin June 17.
Emily and Brooke will be joined by the Allegheny County boys division winners, brothers Ben and Sam Eddings of the South Side.
There are also three alternates attending: Kelsey Baran, 13, of McCandless, Bob Narr, 10, of Lawrenceville and Eli Murphy, 10, of Shadyside.
All will have a chance to win prizes and college scholarships.
Emily said she's excited about the potential scholarship, but admits that by college, she expects to be retired from marbles.
That way, she can focus on her career plans: professional basketball.
"But I really want to win the championship first," Emily said. "Because just to be known as the national marbles champion would be so, so cool."neigh_north
Jessica Contrera: email@example.com or 412-263-1458 First Published June 6, 2013 9:45 AM