Matthew (left) and Nicholas Follmer, members of the Norcross Stackers, practice their doubles speed-stacking skills at Peachtree Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in Peachtree Corners. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Gwinnett students stack up medals in a sport that’s rising

Anyone who believes that all sports require running, sweating and grunting probably haven’t heard about sports stacking. Started about 25 years ago as a recreational activity for camp kids, the sport involves stacking and unstacking cups at a rapid clip in a race against the clock. After gaining national attention in 1990 during “The Tonight Show,” Bob Fox, a Colorado elementary school teacher, thought it was a cool way to engage kids.

He founded a company called Speed Stacks that took the sport to the masses.

“When I first became passionate about sport stacking in 1995, a lot of people would hear about it and scratch their heads. Stacking a sport? The only way to explain it was to show them firsthand — sport stacking is truly something you have to see to believe! I absolutely love the challenge of turning skeptics into believers, and the list of stacking enthusiasts grows every day,” he said in a national interview.

Turning skeptics into believers is nothing new for the sport stacking teams from Peachtree Elementary School and Pinckneyville Middle School. Over the summer they attended the WSSA 2018 AAU Junior Olympic Game Sport Stacking Championships and proved they are among the best in the world. The six Gwinnett County Public Schools students competed against 274 students from Canada, Japan and the U.S. The students took home a combined 18 medals: four gold, one silver, two bronze, and eleven fourth- through 10th-place medals.

Insisting that it does take skill and practice to get to the competition level, Coach Michael Senf pointed out several other benefits of stacking.

“Stacking is a sport that helps hand-eye coordination,” he said. “It teaches the students mathematical patterns in stacking the cups up and down and it event helps with bilateral coordination, using left and right hands together at the same time.”

The students practice Mondays after school. There’s no age limit; children as young as three have competed all over the world, and some of the oldest players are well into their 80s.

For kids who aren’t especially strong or tall or aggressive, stacking can be their way into athletics.

“Stacking is a real sport because it involves the fun of competition and different events worldwide,” said Jonathan Driggers, who’s been involved with stacking since he was six.

“Once they get to a certain skill level they are recognized as some of the best in the sport,” said Maxine Robles, whose two sons Matthew and Nicholas Follmer are on the national team. “Like any other athletic team, they are ambassadors of their country and their community. This is a great opportunity for kids who might not make the football team or the cheerleading squad.”

Besides the travel, the sport isn’t expensive. A regulation setup is about $40. The uniform can be a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. There are no pads or helmets required.

“We’ve been doing this for seven years,” she said. “It has a governing body and it’s a recognized sport. You compete against yourself, against other people and other teams.”

As a single mother who works full time Robles said she wouldn’t have the time to trek her boys all over the metro area for weekly games.

What she finds disheartening, however, is that many people don’t understand the diligence and commitment required to be good at stacking — never mind the skill.

“We’ve done a lot of demonstrations, especially for other schools,” she said.

Senf agreed that it’s a great addition to PE class because it doesn’t discriminate. If you’re fast and focused, you could be a star at it.

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