Story by Chris Graham
Cribbs is also a foosball visionary and entrepreneur who has modeled a U.S. foosball circuit after the PGA Tour and hopes that one day top foosball players will be recognized on the street like stars in other sports.
“That’s the way the game is treated in Europe,” said Cribbs, the owner of the Pinnacle, N.C.,-based Bonzini USA, which markets custom foosball tables and organizes foosball tournaments across the country, including the Thunder in the Mountains Foosball Spectacular at Byers Street Bistro in Downtown Staunton that was held last month.
The foosball that you see in Bonzini USA’s tournaments is a far cry from the one that you play at the local bar or pool hall.
“At the highest levels, it’s more of a mental chess game than it is physical. All the top players have the physical skills. It’s how you use those skills to get your opponent – lots of fakes, lots of getting in their head, so they’re thinking, Is he going to go here, is he going to go there? It’s like a chess game. The higher you get up there, the more it becomes a complex game,” said Bruce Nardoci of Charlotte, N.C., a foosball running buddy of Cribbs dating back to the late 1970s.
The hardest part of the game for people who aren’t “just messing around in a bar,” Nardoci said, is the five-bar, which is the row of five players in the midfield of the playing surface. “Everybody practices their shooting rod, everybody can shoot. The problem is at the higher levels people have good five-bars, so getting the ball through the five-bar and keeping the other guy from getting through the five-bar is where the game is,” Nardoci said.
“I’ve played with people who never missed a shot, but I’d beat the crap out of them, because they’d get the ball five times a game because I played my five-bar and had a good middle game,” Nardoci said.
The PGA Tour model that Cribbs is working from has him developing a ranking system so that people following the sport have a sense of who’s hot and who’s not and tying his tournaments to local charities, as he does with the Staunton event and its annual support for the AMC Hospice of the Shenandoah.
The Thunder in the Mountains event got worldwide exposure when ESPN brought its nightly “SportsCenter” news show to Staunton in 2005 to broadcast live from that year’s tournament. Cribbs said the attention was a positive.
“Our competition hated it, because they saw what we do, and it’s not easy to do what we do,” Cribbs said. “It’s expensive doing these things. We’re giving back to the communities. And it’s a time issue, too. You sacrifice a lot of time doing this.”