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Hey kids, how about a game of cribbage?

ST. PETERSBURG

Margaret Austin spreads out a trifold presentation board for eight curious students. "You guys do projects for school," she says. "Well, I did one for you!"

The board's title: "CRIBBAGE CLUB: ORDER OF PLAY."

Austin, 69, teaches cribbage twice a week to a group of 9- through 11-year-olds at the Northside Boys & Girls Club in St. Petersburg.

The kids gather around her to refresh their memories of what they learned the week before about a game that involves no electronics, just cards, a board and some pegs.

"What's step No. 2?" she asks the group.

"Deal six cards to each player," they say in unison.

With that, Austin and her playing partner, Chris Campbell, 14, are off to the races. But the kids are already eager to jump in themselves.

One gets a bit too excited and starts to shout, saying he can do it, too.

"Inside voices . . ." Austin says with a warm smile, then continues her game.

• • •

Austin, a retired parole officer and legal assistant, has been playing cribbage for 60 years. Every generation in her family has played with the same passion.

"When I visit my brother in Michigan, the question isn't 'Do you want to play cribbage?' The question is 'Do we have time before dinner?' "

Her youngest grandchild — 6-year-old Ernesto — is practically a pro. The rest of her grandchildren, all seven, play the game, too. She has taught them all.

But Austin wanted more. So she contacted the Boys & Girls Club and asked if she could start a cribbage club. Now she volunteers four times a week at two locations.

"The Boys & Girls Club is such a good part of the community,'' she said. "They do wonderful things for the kids. It brings me great joy to be able to volunteer there."

Cribbage was largely played among the military in World War II. It's also huge in Britain and is one of the most popular card games played in pubs.

"I think it's the kind of game that's played in families," she said. "If your family plays it, you play it."

• • •

Back in the club, the kids are all really adamant about one thing: "Don't show me your cards!!!!" Knowledge Brown, 11, tells his partner.

"At first it was so hard," Brown says as he deals a hand. "I was like 'What. are. we. doing?' "

Cydney Serrano, 10, and her best friend, Joneisha Davis, 11, have nailed it. They shuffle, deal and play hands like skilled magicians.

"When we started this, we thought it was boring, but once you get the hang of it, it's fun," Davis says.

It's only their third time playing; they have seven classes to go.

The clock is pushing 5:30 p.m. and the crew gets restless after an hour of play. Cards and pegs are used as torpedoes slung across the table rather than for the game. That's when Austin decides to pack it up.

She tells them goodbye and that she'll see them Thursday.

She wheels her suitcase full of cribbage boards down the hall and out the door. She packs up her trunk then drives off in her teal Chevy HHR with a very prominent sticker across the side back window that reads: "got cribbage?"

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862.

fast facts

No one knows for sure exactly who invented cribbage, but John Suckling (1609-1642), an English knight, poet, playwright and gambler, is credited for creating the game. After he was caught trying to help a friend who was jailed in the Tower of London, he fled his beloved England. Suckling killed himself a year later. He is acknowledged as the best card player of his time and cribbage is his legacy.

Source: cribbagesupply.com

• • •

To learn how to play, visit the American Cribbage Congress: cribbage.org

Cribbage boards are needed

Margaret Austin is looking for cribbage boards to give to each child once the five-week class is over. "What's the point of learning cribbage if they can't keep playing?" she said. If you have a cribbage board

you want to donate, call Austin at (727) 544-2120 or email her at

cribbagelady29@gmail.com.

Hey kids, how about a game of cribbage? 04/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:46pm]

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