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In stacked cups, junior Olympians find friendships, polish their motor skills

From a distance, it looked like a small army of tap dancers had passed a showroom at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Sunday.

This is the sports stacking game, and the goal is simple: players stack and unstack sets of plastic cups into pyramids as quickly as possible.

It sounds simple, but it requires a significant amount of hand-eye coordination, muscle memory, and dexterity to master, said Don Teel, president of Speed ​​Stacks Inc., who helped organize the stacking competition at the. This year’s AAU Junior Olympics, which for the third time are being held in Houston this week.

“Think of stacked sport like a track and field competition for your hands,” he said. “You use both hands. It’s really good for the brain.

Over the past two decades, Teel and others have toured the world, promoting sport in physical education classes as a way to improve brain function and motor skills, as one confirmed by one. small number of searches for the game.

And the sport continues to grow: in 2015, more than 600,000 stackers from all over the world played simultaneously, setting a new Guinness World Record. And the top performers have garnered plenty of followers on sites like YouTube, which Teel says has been instrumental in spreading the game among the younger generations.

And stackers are only accelerating, the competition between the best players often being decided in milliseconds.

“It’s just gotten a lot faster since we were kids,” said William Orrell, 22, from North Carolina. “Our generation has grown up with it, and each year we seem to get a little bit better.”

Orrell set many world records for the sport and was a hero to many youngsters in Sunday’s games.

This was evident from the ear-to-ear smile on Max Jackson’s face after Orrell offered him a stack of mugs. The Reading, Pa. Native discovered the game when he was around 4 and watching Yo Gabba Gabba, a children’s puppet show on Nickelodeon that featured stacking sports.

“I remember him on YouTube! The 11-year-old yelled at Orrel as he circled excitedly.

Her mother, Tara, could only smile. “They are like her celebrities,” she said.

Many of Jackson’s contestants said they discovered the game through physical education classes and learned to love it because it challenged their motor skills.

Gideon Jones, a 9-year-old Houston native who now lives in Tennessee, compared it to two of his other favorite hobbies: drums and origami.

For Caeden Gonzales, sport was an opportunity to travel. The 14-year-old New Yorker bragged about having visited places like Iowa and North Carolina, making new friends with people like Orrel, who Gonzales said was “definitely” one of its heroes.

Friendship has often been cited as a key driver of interest by Sunday’s Olympians, about half of whom were girls – a marked change from just a few years ago, before the AAU allowed it girls to compete separately from boys.

Betsy Sanchez said she made many new friends through the game, which she first learned in a gym class in Fort Worth.

The 15-year-old is one of the best stackers in the country and she won three medals on Sunday, the result of years of practicing the sport that has become essential in her life.

“It’s really all I love to do for fun now,” she said before joining her friends and teammates.

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