Somehow, Tracy Townsend missed out completely on the arcade experience of Skee-Ball as a kid.
It’s safe to say she has made up for lost time.
The 30-year-old known among Skee-sters as “Trace Face” recently walked away a victor in the individual competition at this year’s National Brewskee-Ball Championship in Austin, Texas. Her first-place win was a double history maker. Townsend is the first Wilmington resident—and the first female in the country—to bear the title.
“It’s predominantly boy-run, especially in the New York and San Francisco leagues,” Townsend said of the phenomenon that has become the national adult Skee-Ball circuit. “But there are a lot of girls here; the ladies dominate in Wilmington.”
Those ladies include, of course, Townsend and some of her friends who got involved with the local league—created by Five Star Tavern owner Adrian Varnam—just a few years ago. Varnam started the Wilmington league in 2007 at Blue Post Billiards, then later moved it to Five Star when he opened the business. It currently has more than 50 members.
“I saw some fliers for it at Blue Post in 2010 and told my friends about it. And I’ve been playing ever since…I never even played Skee-Ball as a kid, so for me it was a new experience. Where I grew up, we just didn’t have anything like that nearby,” the Emerald Isle native noted.
While it’s likely she was a natural at the game—which requires accuracy to hit the wooden balls into the holes of various point values—Townsend said she was just “okay to start out.”
But by her second season, she was already a standout, winning the Wilmington league’s Best Roller of the Year award. She was the first woman to take that trophy, as well.
Though she loves the game, Townsend has never taken Skee-Ball too seriously, an approach she acknowledges might have worked in her favor at the national competition.
“I just enjoy playing the game; it’s my social outlet for the week. Honestly, the national championship is like my vacation each year because I get to see all my friends; I have made friends from all over the country. I basically play Skee-Ball so I can compete in the national championship,” she said. “But that’s probably what makes me pretty good. I don’t sweat it as much…it’s just something fun to do on a Tuesday night.”
Still, she was sweating just a little in Austin over Memorial Day weekend as she entered the second day of 64-player, single-elimination contest as a number four seed and vied for the coveted cream jacket against four number-one seeds, including defending champ “Joey the Cat” from San Francisco.
“OK, I was like an emotional wreck,” she said. “I am somewhat competitive in the sense that nobody likes to lose, I guess.”
Having been taken down by “Joey the Cat” three times before, Townsend decided she’d be happy if she just beat him. Then, when she was down to the finals against her friend from Brooklyn known as “Davinskee,” she just decided to “go have some fun.”
She didn’t do it without a little strategy, however. Rolling “conservative” games of repetitive 40 pockets, she bumped up her game against the top guys, who she knew were experts at hitting the 50s.
“I’ve literally watched thousands of Skee-Ball matches over my career,” Varnam said. “What I saw ‘Trace Face’ give was one of the gutsiest performances ever. She was aggressive. She attacked the 50 pocket. She showed no fear, and on the biggest stage in front of some of the greatest rollers to ever play the game.”
Weeks after her monumental win, Townsend is still reeling.
“It’s pretty amazing . I still don’t know if I entirely believe it actually happened,” she said, laughing.
And she has been amazed, too, by the outpouring of support and praise, particularly from her fellow female players.
“I’ve gotten so many messages from people in other leagues…And I can’t tell you how many girls came up to me after and said ‘you made me want to practice harder’ or ‘you’re representing the ladies for us,’” she said.
As the national champ, Townsend received a trophy and $3,000.
How she plans to spend her winnings? On traveling to the National Brewskee-Ball Championship next year, naturally.
The twenty-third season of Wilmington’s Brew-skee Ball league gets underway next week, and registration is still open to players. Weekly matches are held at Five Star Tavern. Click here to learn more or sign-up.
Click here to see a video of Townsend’s performance at the national tournament.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.