Lavaca Street Bar seems like a standard sports bar at first glance. Most of it is occupied by friends sitting around crowded tables, talking over each other and watching March Madness, but around the corner in its dimly lit back room sit four vintage skeeball machines.
Age has worn the machines. Occasionally, they break down. Some have holes in the nets, and, in other places, there is chipped paint, adding to its character.
On Wednesday and Sunday evenings, the machines are brought to life by members of the Austin Skeeball League, a group of mostly young professionals looking for a way to hangout with friends and drink.
The league was created by co-founders Brandon Greer, Paige Powell and Correy Reiling and has grown from 42 members to more than 150.
“A buddy of mine and I — I guess three years ago — went out golfing and started talking about doing our own league,” Greer said. “It was kind of an odd thing when he presented me with it, but we started thinking about it, and we all said, ‘Let’s do this as a group of friends,’ and it just kind of spread from there.”
The rules of Skeeball are simple. A team of three players signs up for the league and picks a day to roll: Wednesday or Sunday. At each match there are 10 rounds per game with nine rolls per turn. This repeats eight times per season, with the top-10 overall teams from each day making it to playoffs. This year’s playoffs begin Wednesday.
“It’s an old-school game,” Greer said. “Anybody can be good at it, but you don’t have to be good at it. You can go and break up your week and hang out with fun people.”
Alexia Sanchez, who plays for Skee3PO, had not played skeeball since her childhood when she heard about the league from her aunt and joined.
“I’d played skeeball at Chuck E. Cheese’s as a kid, but I never thought it was this ‘skee-rious,’” Sanchez said.
While there is a competitive side to the league, it operates more as a social outlet.
“It gives me the opportunity to get out of the house midweek, have a couple beers with friends, be competitive and get some skeeball in,” Sanchez said.
The league has been meeting at Lavaca Street Bar for the past year. While the bar doesn’t directly profit from the league, they have seen an increase in traffic early Wednesdays and Sundays.
“They invest a lot in promoting it, and it draws a great crowd,” said Chad Taylor, general manager at Lavaca Street Bar. “Not just a lot of people but a good quality of people. It’s a lot of the same people who would come to the bar anyway, so it’s a really good match.”
The league owns the skeeball machines. Greer and his co-founders bought them on websites such as Craigslist and eBay for around $2,000 apiece. Greer said each machine is at least 60 years old. Time has warped them slightly, giving each one its own quirks and changing how players must roll on each machine.
Adam Fortner, a member of Skee3PO’s rival team How Ball Are You?, said there is a certain strategy to the game that makes it easier to win.
“There is sort of a threshold of skill level where you can go for the hundreds, but you’re rarely going to hit them,” Fortner said. “It’s ridiculous to even try, so you have to go for that shot up the middle with the 30s, 40s and 50s. If you’re consistent with that, you can beat the other team every time.”
With this year’s season coming to a close, league members will soon play their final games until next May when the new season begins.
When the final roll is made and the neon skeeball machine lights flicker off, the most important thing about Austin Skeeball League is the camaraderie it provides.
“I think it’s more of meeting the new people and making new friends,” Greer said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of it. Most of my friends are actually ones that I have met through skeeball.”