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Foosball gets a kick-start here

Medford man helps lead comeback

Medford is a hot spot in a national revival of Foosball, the popular table game of the '70s.

It's come back like skateboarding, with improved technology and greater sophistication, says Mike Hanna, who is putting tournament-class tables in bars around the region.

It's grown from a tavern game for young people into a league sport with professional and semi-pro players, he says.

It's big in Seattle, but there's not much happening south of there to San Jose -- except in Medford, he says.

Local league play will resume this fall at several locations, including Rock 'n' Rodeo and Time Out Sports Bar in Medford and the O'Ryan's Irish Pub in Ashland.

Hanna is hoping to build a business of Foosball. Players pay 50 cents a game, and he says he can make $20 a week from a table in good location (and $20 a year from a table in a bad location).

He earned a degree in business and political science at Southern Oregon University and worked in U.S. Rep. Bob Smith's office for five years before getting into construction.

The game was developed in Europe and gained popularity in Germany after it was used as a tool to help World War II veterans work on eye-hand coordination, Hanna said. (Foosball -- phonetically, at least -- means football in German.)

The game resembles soccer, with players dribbling, passing and shooting a wooden ball by twirling little men mounted on spindles.

It was brought to America in the '70s and heavily promoted by Tournament Soccer, a leading table manufacturer.

Hanna, an avid player since the beginning, got into vending Foosball tables in Southern Oregon with John Modrich at that time.

But after a few years, Tournament Soccer went bankrupt, and that's when Foosball died down, Hanna said. My partner and I sold our tables to a friend in Redding, and we went our separate ways.

It stayed dead until three or four years ago when the old generation of Foosball players was introduced to a new generation of tables -- and players.

The kind Hanna places cost $1,500 and weigh 340 pounds -- 100 pounds more more than the old tables. But better surfaces and improved spindles have changed the game, he said.

It takes a fair amount of practice to become skilled, he said, adding, It's said that people who haven't played when they were 19 or 20 probably won't play at all.

It requires fast eyes, fast hands, an ever-growing arsenal of shots, passes and moves -- and lots of strategy.

You have to watch what the person does, said player Jeff Molnar, 29. Sometimes they'll do a little hitch before they shoot. When you're on defense you might give them a hole to look at and then take it away.

Foosball isn't a spectator sport, Hanna says, but he's discovered players are very competitive. Several thousand, including a handful from the Rogue Valley, are rated by the World Table Soccer Association.

Tournaments are all business, but leagues are social events, says Hanna.

It brings in a good crowd, and they come here on off-nights, said Rene Winkle, who owns Time Out Sports Bar with her husband, Brian. It's a lot of fun. They don't cause a lot of problems, and they always bring a lot of friends.

Mike Hanna, left, takes on Jeff Molnar, Medford, in a game of table-top soccer at Medford's Time Out Sports Bar. - Photo by Bob Pennell