The Marble Champions of Monroe County

Spirit of the Bluegrass

TOMPKINSVILLE, Ky. (WDKY)– A weather-beaten shack in a field may not look like much from the outside. But in Monroe County, it’s the premiere sports arena known as “The Marble Club Super Dome.”

It’s a place where grown men get down and dirty and play a game called “rolley hole.” It’s sort of like croquet. You try to get your marble in a hole and knock your opponents out of contention.

“It’s a great game,” says veteran player Jack Head. ” You’ve got defense, offense, strategy– the whole shot right here.”

The dome has been a hangout since 1988, when several of the players got together and built it. Before that, most of their matches were played outdoors, in marble yards.

Folks have been playing marbles around Tompkinsville for decades and the club has always been a source of pride.

“We used to have over 100 members,” says regular player Billy Emberton. But numbers have dwindled as people have moved away, COVID-19 has limited gatherings, and younger people have found other past-times.

Billy says he lives in the marble capital of the world.

“They used to say Moss, Tennessee was, but I believe it’s Monroe County now.”

The game is also big just across the border in Overton County, Tennessee, where a national tournament takes place each year. So many of the Monroe County players have come back with titles and prizes over the years, they’ve lost count.

The players treasure their marbles, handmade from squares of flint. Glass marbles would chip shatter from the hard hits they would take in rolley hole.

Billy’s brother, Robert Emberton, says a good marble can sell for anywhere from $15 to $80.

“You don’t want to lose them,” he says. “Some people can make one in two hours, It would take me two weeks.”

Robert was part of a team of sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee who were invited to the British Marbles Championship in London in 1992. They became the first overseas team to win the overall trophy in the 400-year history of that event.

Some of the guys here have been playing marbles as long as they can remember, but they know if they want to keep the tradition alive, they need to get some younger players interested.

Billy’s grandson, Dylan Emberton, is 21, and tries to talk it up with his peers.
“It’s kind of hard nowadays with all the technology and stuff.”

But he says it should appeal to young athletes.


“You get your exercise out here, getting up and down, crawling around on the floor. You know, you always want to win and this is where you can do it,” Dylan says.

This is a tight-knit club with just a handful of members, but it’s in no way exclusive. The doors are open to anyone.
“We like for people to come watch us,” Billy says. “We’re proud of our game.”

They welcome anyone who wants to learn the game, and even though most nights it looks like a men’s club, women are invited to play, too. Members say they’ve had some very competitive female players over the years.

The games may look like child’s play, but the veteran players have been hooked for life, hoping generations from now, people will still come to “The Dome” and let the good times roll.

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