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FOR THE KIDS : Collectors, Retailers Milk New Pog Craze : The revival of a Depression-era game finds kids lining up for tournaments, where winners get to take home more of the caps.

July 21, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you don't believe that Pog mania has hit Ventura County, come around to Scottie's Sports Cards & Collectibles in Simi Valley when the store holds its monthly tournament.

Sometimes as many as 80 kids show up, ready to hunker down on the floor with a stack of Pogs in one hand and a "slammer" in the other.

"The place is just packed--it's a scene," said Richard Simons, who owns the store with his wife, Monica. So many kids want to play that they have to take a number and wait outside until it's their turn.

Maybe you're still wondering, just what is a Pog? It's simply a silver-dollar-sized cardboard milk bottle cap. Just like the ones from the old days of glass milk bottles.

The game has its roots in the Depression when kids stacked the caps face up or face down and tried to flip them over by walloping them with a "slammer," a heavier disc.

The game was revived in Hawaii about two years ago when a teacher got some milk covers from a dairy and showed the game to her students. As the game caught on, the most popular discs came from a drink made from passion fruit, orange and guava--hence the name Pog. Since then, the game has spread to the mainland, into Canada and down to Mexico.

Simons said his store sells thousands of Pogs every week to elementary and middle schoolchildren, as well as some to adults. The colorful discs start at 25 cents apiece, while the slammers run from $1 to $6. They have pictures and words stamped on them--everything from "Howard Stern for President" to a skull and crossbones to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

"It's the hottest thing going," he said.

The store bought its first supply of Pogs a year ago and began hosting the tournaments in the fall. The next tournament will be at 11 a.m. Saturday.

To play, kids pay 25 cents and receive four Pogs to stack up on the floor of the store. The Pogs they flip become theirs to keep, and the winners of each round go on to another round until a final winner emerges. The prize is more Pogs.

This month's winner was 13-year-old Adam Crowder, who took home a set of Beavis and Butt-head Pogs to add to his collection of more than 300 discs.

"I've won most of them," he said. "I've won a lot and I've bought a lot."

Therein lies the controversy over Pogs. When kids began taking them to school to play during recess, they proved to be too disruptive, and many schools in Ventura County have now banned them--some claiming that it was a form of gambling.

But that apparently hasn't stopped the popularity of the game. Newbury Park Sportscards is holding its third tournament at 10:30 a.m. July 9 at the store.

Kids pay 25 cents to play, and they receive three Pogs and a slammer, according to store owner Pam Rhodes. The winner emerges through elimination rounds.

"We have parents come in and take pictures," she said. But the game is still fairly new and some parents come into the store wanting to know just what a Pog is. They are sold mainly at sport card shops.

The local tournaments are partly the inspiration of a Simi Valley couple, Tim and Carol Whitcomb, who jumped on the Pog craze last summer and began manufacturing the milk caps, along with other makers of the discs. From their home, they've already printed more than 1 million Pogs.

"We're growing astronomically," Carol Whitcomb said. "We've got wall-to-wall Pogs." The couple, who operate the business with her sister, are looking for a business location.

They sell the caps to about 60 stores in Ventura County and the Los Angeles area, and they help the outlets run the tournaments. They've even organized them as far away as Las Vegas.

Is there skill involved in playing the game? "I've seen a 4-year-old beat a 16-year-old," she said. "It's a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill."

Details

* WHAT: Some upcoming Pog tournaments:

* SATURDAY: 11 a.m. Scottie's Sports Cards & Collectibles, 2345 Erringer Road, Simi Valley, 582-2737. Noon: Ventura VFW Hall, 3801 Market St., 498-2213.

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