Contender 1 Ken Weber sits down in his normal chair, at his normal table, eating his $3.50 meal of pork chow mein, mandarin orange sauce and chocolate chip cookie. He sits down to a meal every Tuesday afternoon at the Morgan Park Community Club in Duluth, Minn., prior to his weekly $1.25 cribbage tournament. Every week 8-12 seniors from the area join Ken for a bite to eat at the senior lunch and engage in a little friendly competition.
Ken sports a worn green sweater, slacks that don’t quite reach his ankles, horn-rimmed glasses, and a pair of black loafers with matching black socks.
If experience is a factor in the tournament, he has the other seven players beat. Ken, who has been playing cribbage since he was a 10-year-old, has 80 years of experience.
He can’t help but brag about his second place finish in the all-city cribbage tournament.
“I’ve got the trophy to prove it,” Weber says. “It’s kind of a gold finished trophy with a 29 hand across the top.”
Ken sits down to one of the tournaments two circled tables, ready for the tournament to start. Then he puts his game face on.
Contender 2 Dorothy Williams has already finished up her chocolate chip cookie and patiently awaits the others to finish theirs.
She sits at a long table in an outfit of all blue. She has navy blue shoes, a blue jacket, blue turtleneck, and blue jeans. The only items that aren’t blue are her black purse sitting underneath her chair and her silver, neck length hair.
Dorothy knows her opponents well, having been in a band with four of them for the last decade. They call themselves the Ramblers. They play country western music at local nursing homes and community centers. Dorothy sings, plays drums, plays the keyboard, and currently holds the title for being the band’s least senior member.
“I’m the youngest,” Dorothy says with a chuckle. “I’m 81.”
Dorothy is reluctant to choose who might prove to be her toughest competition today.
“We’re all good,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to say that.”
Her dad taught her how to play the game 69 years ago and to this day she always loves the opportunity to play.
She spends her winters in New Mexico where dominoes and pinochle are the games of choice.
“Down South they don’t play cribbage,” she says. “I miss it.”
She takes her seat at one of the two round tables and cuts the deck, drawing the lowest card, and earning the first crib with a smile.
Contender 3 Betty Peterson sits quietly amongst all the chit-chat of the other players. She wears thin glasses and a striped shirt that has musical patches of violins, guitars, and musical notes; a hint to her inclusion in the Ramblers, where she plays the bluegrass fiddle.
Betty is 83 years old and has been playing cribbage since she was a teenager.
She boasts about how she won 9 out of 10 games the previous week.
“That day was something else,” says Ken in disbelief. “Every cut fit her hand.”
Her parents taught her how to play cribbage “around a little pot belly stove in Grand Marais.”
She has been in love with the game ever since.
Betty takes the final seat at the table as the tournament begins.
After the match
A few days after the tournament Betty can’t quite recall who won, not that it matters to her. She was just happy to spend quality time with good friends.
“We get so excited when we play cribbage,” says Betty. “Even if we lose, we’re still excited.”