Philadelphia Neighbors' Homegrown Game Of Stones Rolls To Popularity07:01

This article is more than 5 years old.

Thirty-eight-year-old Chris Kinka played football through most of childhood and up through junior year of college.

"I had done so much damage to my body my junior year," he says, "I decided I wasn't going to play again my senior year. It just wasn't worth it me."

His neighbor, 43-year-old John Janick, still plays pickup basketball — now in a league known as the "dad league."

"I consider myself pretty competitive," he says. "I played lots of sports growing up.”

So when Kinka invited Janick on a camping trip to Western New York 10 years ago, it was only natural the trip would turn competitive.

'It Was Totally Improvised'

"I mean, he told me we would just be kind of hanging out on a hill for Memorial Day weekend, bring some games along," Janick says. "It sounded like fun."

It got to the point where we were creating tournaments to meet the demand of people who wanted to play. And that was really cool.

Chris Kinka

One of those games was bocce. That's an Italian game where you roll balls toward a fixed mark.

"I hadn't really played bocce up to that point," Janick says.

"It was totally improvised," Kinka says.

"We wanted to expand on it — probably after playing it for an hour and we got bored," Janick says. "Might have thought, ‘Hmmm what about bringing some golf into it?'"

"Yeah, so then we started to kind of look at them like each one as a successive golf hole," Kinka continues. "We called them holes at the time. In fact we called the whole game 'bocce golf' at the time."

Each "hole" had a unique terrain, shape and some natural obstacles.

So that was 2006 — the first tournament of what the men then called “bocce golf.” John and his playing partner won that game. The next year, they went back — to the same spot in Western New York.  Kinka had a mission.

"I was going back to redeem myself," Kinka says.

"So, you were holding the grudge for a year?" I ask.

"I was holding it for a year," Kinka says.

"Chris wanted to beat us so bad that he would argue, 'Oh, the ball is out. Now it's in,'" Janick says.

But the gamesmanship didn’t work. And again, Janick and his playing partner beat Kinka.

A Homegrown Game Gets A Name — And A Fanbase

So they wrote down a basic set of rules — on a pizza box.

The next year, same spot, same tournament, same outcome.

"The first three years, they pretty much ran with it," Kinka says.

By year three, that little camping trip had grown. This time, about 40 of their friends came out with them to try the game. That turnout was a light bulb for Janick and Kinka.

“It was its own game," Kinka says. "So that's where we realized that it should probably be renamed."

They called their new game "Stones." It's partly an homage to the natural setting and a reference to the playing equipment.

"Waiting another year for another shot wasn't going to fly," Kinka says. "So I literally forced another tournament a few months after, so I had an opportunity to win."

Kinka and Janick's game combines elements of bocce and golf (Shai Ben-Yaacov/Only A Game)
Kinka and Janick's game combines elements of bocce and golf (Shai Ben-Yaacov/Only A Game)

"And not to mention, I mean, at this point, there's so many people who are interested in playing this, but they had to go with us for a six-and-a-half hour drive, commit to three days over a holiday, so it was tough for everyone to experience it,"  Janick adds.

So in 2009, they held a tournament in Philadelphia. And in doing so, Kinka and Janick took Stones out of the confines of their regular campsite and into a big city with lots of potential players. From there, the game branched out.

"My brothers built a course out in West Chester," Kinka says.

In Atlantic City, they carved out a course in the sand for the weekend.

"People would contact us and say, 'Hey when's the next tournament?'" Kinka says. "So, it got to the point where we were creating tournaments to meet the demand of people who wanted to play. And that was really cool."

Stones Rolls Across The Country

Now, the game Kinka and Janick made up on a camping trip has hundreds of players in several U.S. cities — mostly in Pennsylvania and New York — as well as Canada.

But just how big has the game gotten?

On a chilly February day, I met Chris at a local park to try out Stones for myself — on what will soon become the world’s first public Stones course.

The course is currently being built on land owned by the city of Philadelphia. It’s set to open in April.

I had to admit — after just one round, I was nearly hooked. It's a fun game. Not too difficult but hard enough to require some skill and forethought.

But Kinka and Janick think there's another reason their idea is still alive after 10 years. It's them.

"I'm a little bit out of my mind," Kinka says. "Right?"

"I would agree," Janick says.

"And so," Kinka says. "I think we're all a little bit out of our minds."

"I really love playing it," Janick says. "I mean, going to these tournaments, like, just the drive in to some of these tournaments, we've, starting to sweat and everything, getting ready. Going over different scenarios again. And the nerves, the nerves are real."

And by the way, since that initial losing streak, Kinka has been on a roll.

"The tides have turned," he says. "John hasn't won in quite some time. And now I have had much better successes."

"But, you know, I'll always be known kind of like the Green Bay Packers winning the first two Super Bowls," Janick says. "You can't change history. I have my name etched in stone on the trophy."

This segment aired on March 19, 2016.