Nine-year-old Don Filey lived next door to the Portland-Outhwaite Recreation Center in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. After school, he’d walk there to shoot marbles with friends. When the annual Cleveland Press marbles tournament came to the rec center May 18, 1949, he joined in. A Press photographer caught him knuckling down — touching the asphalt with one knuckle to shoot. His younger brother, Robert, wearing suspenders, crouched on one knee behind him, and his cousin, Gerald Jones, wearing a dark newsboy cap, watched over his shoulder. “Cleaning out the pot was a cinch for Don Filey,” the Press’ photo caption read the next day. He skillfully knocked the other boys’ marbles out of the ring.
Walter Filey, another of Don’s five brothers, remembers him as a quiet, studious boy. Don graduated from Kent State University, was married briefly and had a daughter. He moved to Silver Spring, Md., and worked as a data processor for IBM before he died of renal failure at age 40.
The rec center where the Filey boys played, renamed the Lonnie Burten Recreation Center, stands today. Though the clash of colliding marbles no longer resounds across playgrounds, “mibs” (as it was called in the ’40s) isn’t a lost sport. The 91st National Marbles Tournament takes place in Wildwood, N.J., this June.