Fans of the Whistle Sports’ “No Days Off” met P.J. Ball weeks ago when he was featured in the second episode of the short form docuseries airing on YouTube and Facebook Watch.
I had the pleasure just days ago when he and his parents joined me for a chat about sport stacking. If you’ve never heard of such a thing until now, join the club, but sport stacking, the art of stacking cups in specific formations and taking them down as fast as possible without knocking them over, has been around at least since 1981, when kids stacked Dixie Cups for the fun of it at a California Boys and Girls Club.
P.J., short for Philip John, was just 7 when he discovered children playing the sport on YouTube and was hooked.
“It was really flashy and fun and fast,” he said, a big grin strutting across his face. “It was very appealing to 7-year-old me.”
So appealing, in fact, it topped his Christmas wish list at the time.
His mom, Tasha, a former middle school teacher, obliged and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I just started doing it every free second I had,” P.J. remembered.
With each passing second, his speed spiked. P.J. was beating his own record and, along the way, collecting friends from all over the country who enjoyed the sport as much as he did.
He longed for a table with just the right height. When his eighth birthday rolled around, Tasha gave him a $95 bike. His grandmother, Sharon Sharp, gifted a $25 folding table. Perfect.
“I set it up and put it in the living room right where the TV was, and that’s where I’d be the whole day except for school,” he said.
That seemed to satisfy him for a while.
Then in the spring of 2013, while planning a visit to Phil Ball’s parents’ home in Nottingham, Pa., Tasha discovered the World Sport Stacking Association would be holding a tournament an hour away in Towson, Md., and signed the three of them up to compete.
“We were terrible,” Tasha Ball said. “Phil came in last and I came in next to last.”
P.J., on the other hand, came in fourth in the 8-and-under division.
It was then that they realized just how good P.J. really was and sport stacking, at least for him, wouldn’t be just some passing fancy.
They have a saying in the stacking community that once a stacker always a stacker.
P.J. was “fully entrenched.”
Big things were starting to happen.
Phil Ball had always told his son that when you do good, good comes back.
“Whether you believe in God’s blessings or good karma, when you do something good for somebody else, you’re sowing seeds that eventually come back around in a harvest of blessing.”
P.J. had always been a good kid with a big heart. He enjoyed helping people as much as he enjoyed eating hot bowls of pasta, and that’s saying a lot. Pasta is his favorite.
In January 2014, the WSSA invited P.J. to join Team USA, and for the next three months, the family sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts, enough to finance an $8,000 trip for the three of them to Jeonju, South Korea.
Once again, P.J. triumphed, winning a bronze medal for Team USA. Interestingly, it wasn’t his stacking that got everyone’s attention this time around. It was his spiked blond hair.
Back home, of course, he was just one of millions of blond kids. Few, if any, would find that particularly noteworthy, but stacking? That’s different.
That’s what got the attention of folks lining up talent for the first episode of “Little Big Shots,” so they invited then-10-year-old P.J. on the show.
He was such a hit with host Steve Harvey, the television host invited him on his show, even gave him a Steve Harvey-like pinstripe suit. No, I’m not kidding.
That, of course, ratcheted up P.J.’s star power, and after he participated in another competition that summer, the “CBS Sunday Morning” show came calling. That’s when, depending on how you see these things, life got a little crazy.
The Balls sold everything they owned, purchased an RV and hit the road, touring the USA. It was June 2016 and it just seemed like the perfect way for Phil Ball, a former Villa Rica cop turned law enforcement consultant, to respond toequests on how to prevent and survive active killer situations, while allowing P.J. time to compete and him and his mom the opportunity to teach kids the art of stacking.
For the next two years, that was their life — in an RV.
P.J.’s medals were piling up faster than you can say stack. No kidding. P.J. can move cups so fast that only a trace of movement is detectable during the process; so fast videos of him stacking often include a disclaimer that the video is not sped up.
So fast, you’d have to see it to believe it.
They were in Arkansas when Whistle Sports called. For season two of the new short form docuseries, they wanted to spotlight outstanding Gen Z kids and teens who possess extraordinary athletic talent and spirit.
P.J. would fit nicely.
The Balls hadn’t even unpacked when a film crew arrived at their home in Villa Rica to film their son. The episode aired two weeks ago on YouTube. But you can find it here: https://youtu.be/4Brsn27SsCQ.
Last month, P.J. Ball turned 13. In just five years, he’s won nearly 80 medals and touched the lives of thousands of kids, hopefully in a good way, but that’s not always where his heart is.
“All I care about is having pasta for dinner,” he said as a big smile sped across his face.
TO LEARN MORE
For more information about sport stacking or to arrange a class with P.J., you can email him and his mom, Tasha: firstname.lastname@example.org.