WHILE MOST OF the marble games are friendly, there's a bit more competition - though still friendly - among the marble makers. Just a handful of Monroe County guys turn raw stone into polished marbles, and they'll drop their wares into your hands to show off their work within moments of meeting you. "They're very hard to make and get them true and round," says Davis, who sells his white-flint marbles for $15 to $20 each. Since flint is one of the hardest rocks around - it has a scratch hardness of about 7, while diamonds are a 10 - a good marble can last for years.

When marble makers get going, the dust flies. After carving small squares of flint out of hunks usually found in nearby riverbeds, they grind the edges off. The flint is held tight between a rough rock form and a grinding wheel. As the flint spins, it glows bright red with heat - up around 250 degrees. "If you get the flint too hot, it'll just crack and bust," says Davis.

Most marbles are about three-quarters of an inch thick. Without measuring as he goes along, Davis can make a marble that's within three one-thousandths of an inch round. Though he sends finished marbles through a tumbler to put a shine on them, it's the time marbles spend in their owners' pockets that really puts the best finish on them. "The longer you pack them in your pocket, the slicker they get," he says.


The long shot hit. The opponent's marble goes flying.

"You finally hit one, did ya?" a whittler razzes from the sideline.

The whittlers are the Super Dome spectators, and they work on their hunks of wood no matter what happens in the game. When Colonel's brother, Michael, who is acknowledged as one of the best players, sends a marble arching into the air and to its intended place in a display of skill and precision, the wood shavings keep falling. They're not carving anything; their hobby is one of deconstruction. They whittle just to whittle. By the end of the evening, the piles of cedar shavings they've dropped will make the Super Dome look like a hamster's paradise.

Then, quietly, the game is over. Michael stays out on the marble yard practicing while everybody else takes up a chair, waiting to see what's next. But, on this night, there's another sport that's going to win out.

"The game starting?"

"Yeah." And just like that, the potential for more games fades away as players peel off to go home to watch the semifinals of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Last one out shuts off the lights.