Skeeball league encourages a little friendly competition

Jenn Foxon, who processes mortgages in her day job, is a high roller in the skeeBOSTON league. She recently became its first female champion.
Zachary T. Sampson for the Boston Globe
Jenn Foxon, who processes mortgages in her day job, is a high roller in the skeeBOSTON league. She recently became its first female champion.

Most people believed that victory would eventually rest in the palm of Jenn Foxon’s hand.

Eight weeks of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and late weeknights in the corner of a North End bar had given them amateur fortune-telling abilities.

Foxon was the highest of the high rollers. Skeeball was their game, and she was a superstar.


For many, skeeball is a faint memory from youthful days spent killing time in dark arcades. A short lane, a palm-sized ball, and an angled backboard with circular holes marked with various scores.

Zachary T. Sampson for the Boston Globe
Christina Cusolito watched as Jenn Foxon prepared to roll in the final frame during skeeBOSTON’s December championship game at the Greatest Bar.
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In Boston, the childhood game is a sport for about 180 people in a competitive league called skeeBOSTON.

This fall, Foxon, 29, recorded one of the league’s most successful seasons, once dropping a perfect score and leading her three-member team, Smells Like Skee Spirit, to a banner year.

So on Super Saturday in mid-December, the championship extravaganza at the end of the eight-week season, few were surprised when the last roll for the team championship fell to Foxon, a quiet player who sometimes shimmies to the pop hits that play over the bar stereo.

As she approached the skeeball machine, she cupped her hands over her mouth. Her teammates, clad in blue mesh jerseys with neon script, looked on nervously.


“I’m not good under pressure,” she shouted.

About three dozen league members crowded around. The bar fell silent.

Foxon put her right foot forward, bent her knees, pushed her toe against the edge of the skeeball machine, and prepared to roll.

SkeeBOSTON is the brainchild of Duke DeVilling, an outgoing 32-year-old from Peabody who started the league in 2011 to make friends.

DeVilling said he has always been obsessed with games. In college, he said, he spent more time playing cornhole — long-range bean bag toss for adults — than studying.


He bought a few skeeball machines and looked for a bar to put them in. He reached an agreement with The Greatest Bar, which shares profits from the machines with DeVilling. SkeeBOSTON has now logged seven seasons, with the eighth set to begin in late January.

900: A perfect score for a game in the skeeBOSTON league.

Teams of three compete every Wednesday or Thursday night. Each player rolls nine times per frame, and everyone rolls 10 frames each game. A perfect score would be 900 for a single frame; good rollers average just over 300.

Zachary T. Sampson for the Boston Globe
Teams of three compete every Wednesday or Thursday night in the league.

DeVilling doesn’t play, he said, because he’s too good.

“My favorite part about the league is meeting new people,” he said.

It is, above all else, a way for twenty- and thirtysomethings to shed the stress and monotony of the workweek.

Most nights, rollers cheer just as loudly for their opponents as for their teammates. Congratulatory high-fives abound.

“I have met some of my best friends in skeeball,” said Chesley Jensen, 29, of Boston. “We do fantasy football together. We have house parties together. We do everything.”

But there’s another undeniable side to skeeBOSTON: several players are intensely competitive.

“To me, this is a sport; it’s that kind of competition,” said Christina “Coozie” Cusolito, 27, of Brighton.

Janelle Suckley, 30, said she cried during last year’s playoffs when she rolled more than a 300 for the first time. John Hunt, 23, threatened to trade an underperforming teammate three times. There are no trades in skeeball.

Most people felt Foxon deserved to win the championship this season. A female roller had never won the team title before.

A former nemesis muttered encouragement as Foxon stepped up to roll in the final round.

She needed to score just above a 300 to win.

Foxon aimed for the 100 hole. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

She worked rapidly, hitting three hundreds in her first four attempts. She swept her right arm in a tight, mechanical semicircle.

The crowd screamed. Loosened by liquor, an IT specialist, riverboat tour guide, and public relations representative all roared. Someone blew a mallard duck call, filling the bar with a quacking sound. They were screaming for Foxon, who processes mortgage loans by day.

“I thought I was going to throw up,” she said later.

No one knows quite how many points Foxon scored in her last frame because the championship beer shower began before she finished.

Foxon and her teammates, Shannon McLoughlin and Paul Ciaramicoli, both 26, were doused in PBR. They hugged and hopped on the skeeball machine, soaked, smelly, and victorious.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson