True blue twinkers team

Longtime buddies stick together as a locally famous tiddlywinks team that proudly wears (and drinks) the red, white and blue and actually wins some hard fought games

TEAM SPIRIT IS part of the game when Team USA members (from left) Doug Wollner, Brooks Turenne Luke Kraus, Jerry Ott and Brad Watry get together for tiddlywinks tournaments. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

That simple flip of a plastic disc into a cup carries a deeper meaning than at first glance for some local natives, a local establishment and a service organization.

For Ozaukee High School alumni Luke Kraus, Brooks Turenne, Jerry Ott, Brad Watry and Doug Wollner, Team USA is more than just a competitor in area tiddlywinks tournaments.

The events, like the 23rd annual all-day competition at the Railroad Station in Saukville on Saturday, serve as a reunion of sorts for the lifelong friends, most of whom are 2000 high school grads who have been playing since 2003 and some of whom are related.

Their bond goes back well before that.

“We were doing dumb things since we were toddlers,” Turenne said.

“Everybody is still pretty close,” Kraus, the team captain, said.

Their commitment to staying close traverses state lines and time zones.

“There was a time when I was living in California and I flew home to be in tournaments,” Brooks Turenne of Fredonia said.

That dedication is matched only by their zeal for their team. Decked out in Olympic-like warm-ups — Kraus even carries a towel around his neck — the team has its own chants and cheers.

Their beverage of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon, is even patriotic.

“Red, white and blue. Nothing more American than that,” Ott said.

While the alcohol “sometimes loosens you up” for competition, Ott said, strictly from a beer standpoint, “it would not be my choice.”

Team USA got its name in 2010, several years after the core group of guys began playing. Their first team name in 2003 was apropos for 21-year-olds. They needed to be of drinking age to participate since tournaments are held at bars.

“We were barely legal. That was the team name,” Kraus said.

Now, their identity continues to connect with national pride.

“I take a little pro wrestling spin on it. How can you not root for team USA?” Kraus said.

It turns out it’s not that difficult. Ott’s three sisters started Team Canada just to compete against their sibling, and they’re not the only ones to try to take down Team USA.

“Everybody looks at us as being the rival,” Wollner said.

Their uniforms include American flag pins, which Ott said allowed them to drink for free at Turenne’s wedding. The pin has not yielded that result in any establishment since, he said.

Of five area tournaments, Team USA has finished second twice.

“But today we’re getting first,” Wollner said.

“That’s that confidence aspect I was talking about,” Kraus said.

The team did not get first. Or second.

Tiddlywinks has players use a small plastic disc, a “squidger,” to push on a smaller plastic disc, a “wink,” to launch it from behind a line at a corner of the table into a cup, or “pot,” in the center of the table. The first shot in is worth 10 points. A second shot is five points and a third is one. If the wink lands off the mat at any time, a player moves on to the next wink. Players get four winks per turn. Saukville’s mats were 30-by-30 inches.

Each of five team members has one turn per round. A game is five rounds. Scoring is like frames in bowling.

“All the frames are beer frames if you want it to be,” Kraus said.

Players take turns during each game keeping score for both teams.

“One of the biggest challenges is trying to do math,” Kraus said.

A Team USA member scoring 20 points in one turn triggers a team chant of “USA USA USA USA Ooooooo.”

“It’s a very tricky game. I compare it to darts or bowling. There are angles and pressure,” Kraus said.

Players, as in any sport, can get in a zone.

“It seems like there’s a mental aspect. Keep the attitude boosted and keep them positive,” Kraus said.

The type of carpet matters. Some have soft spots.

“There’s skill and you go to different tournaments with different kinds of carpeting,” Turenne said. “You’ve got to find that sweet spot. There’s a technique to it for sure. Also, a little luck doesn’t hurt.”

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Wollner said. “There are people out here who will knock down 40 points at a time. It seems so simple but it’s misleading.”

Games can become more difficult later in the day after a few PBRs.

“People wander off and make friends,” Kraus said.

Team USA competes in five tournaments during winter. The United Snow Byrds snowmobile association in Random Lake holds events in November and April and the Horne Mudlitz Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6377 in Sussex holds an event in February. The team finds one of various events in January.

The group was introduced to the game by family members years ago. Ott, Wollner and Watry are cousins, and they and their friends try to get together for concerts and Fish Day, and to see Kraus play bass in the area band Cool Cool Cool. Watry’s wife Kathy sometimes plays tiddlywinks, and others have filled in as necessary. “The reason we get back together is friends and the fundraiser,” Turenne said.

Totals haven’t been tallied from this year’s event, but Railroad Station co-owner Dawn Brooks said the bar is giving $2,100 to the Saukville Lions. The bar has given more than $28,000 since it has hosted the event the past several years.

Lions President Don Clark said one of the group’s members, who played in a tiddlywinks tournament at Schwai’s in the Town of Polk, started the tournament as a fundraiser in 1999, a year after the Lions were chartered.

Team USA would take a bus from the former McCarthy’s tavern— now Between the Greens — for the two-day event.

The fundraiser later moved to Railroad Station and shifted to a one-day tournament. It still grew.

“At one point a few years ago we had 36 teams and turned teams away,” Clark said.

A Lions member created the mats years ago.

“Those are all the original mats. We’ve washed them a couple of times,” Clark said.

A Lions member who has since died used a plastic mold to make the winks that keep getting reused.

This year, the first-place got $200 and blue tumblers. Second place received $150 and red tumblers. Third place received $100.

The event included a meat raffle and 50/50 raffle.

“It’s great the community supports it. We’ve got teams that have played in the first year and are still there,” Clark said.

This year, 29 five-member teams, including five new ones, packed Railroad Station, along with spectators.

Team USA will continue to be a regular.

“It’s that one universal reason to get together,” Turenne said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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