By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
In March 2002 it was claimed that the Curry County Men’s 42 League was the largest such league in the state. If “Forty-Two,” the only exciting dominoes game, ever becomes one of the Olympic games, this county in Eastern New Mexico could supply the U.S. team.
One warning: These guys are in good form. They play competitively one night a week all fall and winter, and are always in topnotch shape for their annual spring tournament. The 52nd consecutive annual tournament was Feb. 25, 2002, at the Texico Community Center, and I saw these gentlemen knuckle down and concentrate as if their lives rode on every trick. It used to be that 80 percent of the players were ranchers and farmers, but the night I was there I saw many area businessmen shuffling the bones (thanks, Guy Leeder). And some of the players were young whippersnappers, age 30 to 40.
The game of 42 was said by one Texan to have originated in Texas some 75 years ago. But you know how Texans lie. Here in Curry County in 1951 a railroad man, Foster Stephens, was the moving force in organizing this awesome 42 League that is now possibly the last bastion of male togetherness.
In the 1980s someone asked the daddy of this organization if women were permitted to participate. “No siree,” the late Foster Stephens said emphatically. “A woman asked to join one time. I said nothing doing. Why, they’d ruin it. They crochet, knit, raise chickens and such when they’re supposed to be playing.”
Course that is not fair when you consider that some of the wives are there to help keep score, look pretty and bring in the necessary nourishment and goodies. It used to be the Home Extension Clubs that furnished the meal during halftime. Of course they were paid royalty for fixing the food. It kept many old rural Extension Clubs in pin money. Fair? Of course, when you consider they don’t permit men in their clubs.
The timekeeper is an important official, more so than the president it can be said, as the president is playing 42 and the timekeeper has to blow the whistle every 10 minutes to signal a quick “fruit basket turnover” so teams can be bracketed with new competitors. Ten games are played in an evening. (In these 10-minute games you often see six or seven “hands” played.)
There are four players to each of the 25 tables in two partnerships. Each player draws seven bones, leaving no boneyard. There is no Nello. A player can bid on any suit, doubles or follow me. Anyone exposing his hand in any way or reneging forfeits the point to his opponents for the hand. If a player’s bid is a cinch, the player can show his hand whether it is his turn or not.
This is all I’m permitted to tell about this game as women might catch on to it and want in on the fun.
One novice watching the games asked longtime player James Sutton (who sat out this tournament because of health problems) who was the best player there.
“There’s not a best player; it’s all in the dominoes you draw,” Sutton said.
But you do see some of the players with the savvy to figure out who has got what dominoes and play accordingly. It’s a skill you learn, one player told me.
One man, young-in-mind Albert “Blackie” Smith, 90, challenged all comers, and he has backup as his three sons, Eddie, Tex and Morrie, are playing the game, too.
Winner of trophies at this tournament was the Texico team who tied with the Center Aucutt Team, but won on tie-breaking marks. The high couple were Charles Fields and Vernon Aucutt. Other teams playing were Ranchvale, Pleasant Hill, Broadview, Center Priest, Clovis Smith, Clovis Fleming, Clovis Miller and Clovis Barris.
Bill Myers is president; Bob Lacey, treasurer, and the timekeeper is Cecil Nolen.
Former longtime members at the 25th annual tournament in 1975 who never missed a tournament were Vaudie Pierce, John McIntosh, Ralph Barrow, Barney Blackburn, Ralph Northcutt, Pete Chandler, Worley Reid, Buck Price and Virgil Harrison, all well-known men who have passed on.
It can blow up a blizzard or a dust storm, but the 42 players pay no heed. They hear only the familiar sound of “the shuffling of those fascinating white bones with the black spots!”