Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

The competition at weekend event is stacked

Some of the most able, fast and agile athletes will take the stage at DU’s Magness Arena next week. They are trained, ready and competitive — vying to become the sport’s champion.

Welcome to the world of sport stacking, which involves stacking lightweight, plastic cups at lightning-fast speeds. Players arrange 9 or 12 cups in predetermined pyramid sequences, and then break them down. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of event; races start and finish in a matter of seconds.

Some 700 competitors from 19 different countries will descend on Denver to compete in the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA) world championship. Competitors range from 5 years old — the reigning champion is 11-year-old Steve Purugganan — to 80-year-olds. There is a seniors bracket in the competition for 60 years and up.

From a spectator’s perspective, the sport is unlike any other. Competitors will stack cups on about 125 tables around the arena, and all competitors face the audience. Sport stackers start off five feet away from their table. When the timer starts, they run up to the table and start stacking.

It’s been a very different — but fun — event to plan for at Magness Arena, says Michael Burns, director of commercial events at the Ritchie Center. And the Ritchie Center staff will be getting used to it, too — Magness has signed on to host the championship for the next three years.

Sport Stacking 101

• It’s called sport stacking, not speed stacking or cup stacking.
• The cups that are used in the sport are called speed stacks.
• The first sport stacking tournament was held in Colorado.
• In addition to kids’ age divisions, there are adult divisions: collegiate (19–24); masters (25–59) and seniors (60 and above).

Burns says one of the advantages of hosting the event is that it exposes a wide range of ages to the campus. And then there’s the fact that it’s purely a lot of fun to watch.

“Crowds get really into this,” Burns says.

And why wouldn’t they? The sport’s popularity seems to be gaining more momentum each year. The championship is considered to be one of the largest indoor sports competitions.

Although the sport originated in the early 1980s at a youth recreation center in California, it wasn’t until 1995 that it caught the attention of Bob Fox, a Colorado physical education teacher who held the state’s first sport stacking tournament. A state championship was held in 1997, followed by a regional tournament in 2002. In the following years, it was introduced to children around the country. It’s now included in almost 30,000 school and youth organizations worldwide.

Its inclusion into school programs had more to do with a focus on brain power than anything else.

“[It] fosters hand-eye coordination, dexterity, focus and coordination,” says Jill Fox, who runs Speed Stack Inc., the primary sponsor of the 2010 WSSA championship, with her husband, Bob Fox.

The sport itself is easy to learn, but takes a lot of practice to master and garner speed, she says. It’s a race against the clock, and “stackers are always striving for a personal best with hopes of matching or beating age division or world records.”

The WSSA championship will be held 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 10–11 at DU’s Magness Arena. Tickets are $7–$10.

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