Sherri Brown greeted adults and kids coming to her first-year anniversary party.
She, along with partner Clayton Delaney, operates Great American Human Foosball, a fun indoor game spot nestled in a storefront among shops, bars and restaurants south of Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. There are several giant-size games — Yahtzee, foot pool, chess and checkers built on plungers, but the main attraction is human foosball, based on the tabletop soccer/football game.
Teams of six line up behind wood posts wrapped with either blue or yellow PVC pipe. They slip their hands inside grips and get ready to move back and forth in unison trying to score, just like the tabletop version. The playing area, about 16 feet by 32 feet, is enclosed by a 3-foot high wood frame painted gray and trimmed in orange.
Clayton, 41, a combination referee/color commentator, anchors at midcourt where he oversees the game. He tosses in a small, foam soccer ball, blows a whistle to begin play, then keeps up a lively banter.
“Excellent play,” he said as a player banked a shot off the wall. “Finish.”
Then, when a shot was blocked: “Oh, wow! ... Your goalie is on today. What a shot. What a save. ... Thirty seconds left to the match.”
That Saturday afternoon, a mixed team of adults and young people, guys and girls, played fast and furious. Sometimes, they got in a lucky kick. Other times, they just missed, looking over their shoulder to see where the ball went — hopefully not in the other team’s goal.
Some players were seasoned.
“I played when it first started,” said Seamus Heaney, 13, a seventh-grader at Nipher Middle School in Kirkwood, Mo., who was goalie. “It’s really fun. It’s kind of like a smaller version of soccer. I’m a soccer player and a lacrosse player. It was good being goalie.”
40 Inches high at the shoulder required for players
$210 Price for the first 18 people to rent the facility for 2 hours
Others, like his friend, 12-year-old Adam Bernabo, were new to the game.
“I loved it,” Adam said, coming off the court. “I love scoring goals. This game, I had about four. I played forward. I also play soccer. There is a little more action here, and it’s a smaller game. It’s very interesting playing when you are stuck to a pole. It’s a little hard to get used to because you are always facing one way. You have to turn around and look where the ball is.”
Brian Hoskins, 22, of St. Louis, beamed as he left the court.
“It’s the first day I scored that many goals. I think I had 4. The total for all the games I played was 3 up to now.”
Brian, who likes all sports, is an alternate referee when he’s not working at the South City YMCA.
“I love it — the teamwork, the workout, it’s fun. It’s just a lot in one.”
Those not playing foosball watched from the sidelines, took at break at nearby tables or played a different game.
Cheyenne Kessler, 6, knelt beside a giant Yahtzee game, throwing huge dice.
“All right, roll them again,” said dad Dennis, keeping score on a board alongside her.
Across the room, two boys stood on tiptoes to slide giant game pieces into a wooden Connect Four grid. A couple girls lifted large knights, queens and rooks across a giant black and white chess board. There’s even foot pool, in which players take turns racking up painted soccer balls.
Ready for a new game
Great American Human Foosball came about because Sherri didn’t like her job.
“I was working in sales, traveling all the time,” said the 40-year-old mother of 11-year-old Ayla Delaney. “I hated it. I wanted to get out. Dad lives in the country. He’s creative, always building something. He has a big workshop. One night, he emailed a picture he had seen on the Internet. He had seen a makeshift model (of a lifesize foosball court) in a yard.”
Ed Brown, of Farmington, Mo., also sent a message: “We could do something with this. You could start your own business.”
After all, that’s what he had done.
“I always had my own business,” said Ed, 65, who is semiretired. “I had a drill bit shop. I sold that. After that, I had a portable building business in Farmington. I make sheds and other portable buildings. The foosball (set-up) someone did for their backyard was made out of pallets. I figured I already make portable buildings. I could make that and put it on a truck.”
Sherri was in program management at the YMCA for 10 years before she was in sales.
“We pondered the idea,” she said. “We could do leagues, parties. We decided it was a viable choice. Dad sketched out a court and started building.”
That was in September 2014. Before long, Ed had his prototype.
We set it up in our yard and invited friends over to see if they liked it. They said it was the most fun they had had in a long time.
Sherri Brown on her first human foosball
“We set it up in our yard and invited friends over to see if they liked it,” said Sherri, who lives near the business. “They said it was the most fun they had had in a long time.
“We originally were going to make it mobile, but didn’t realize how laborious it was. This building where we are was on the market for several years. It was sort of a foreclosure situation. We offered what we had and they accepted. It’s a dream. I can walk to work.”
Great American Human Foosball opened in mid-January 2015.
“It was either really brave or really stupid,” said Sherri.
Local TV stations did stories, friends talked to friends and social media kicked in.
“Before we knew it, people started calling us.”
The team approach works on the foosball court and off.
“Clayton, the referee and my partner, is fantastic,” said Sherri. “Dad is engineer. Clayton (also a physical ed teacher and personal trainer) is the game facilitator. I am the behind-the-scenes developer. If any of us were missing, it wouldn’t be so successful.”
What part did Sherri’s mom Linda play? “She let us do it.”
Level playing field
As long as your shoulder height is 40 inches from the ground, you can play.
“We say it’s for people 8 to 80,” said Sherri. “Our oldest player was 78 and a half. We’ve had a blind person play. There’s always a referee or game facilitator who keeps the game moving. Some can get really competitive.”
They have hosted youth groups, church groups, holiday parties, corporate team building events and more.
The beauty is, if it’s raining, it doesn’t matter. A hot St. Louis summer, it doesn’t matter. We are indoors. I thought summer would be dead, but it was very busy. ... What surprised us most is how far away people come from to play. We have had people from Indiana.
Sherri Brown on the advantages of the game
“The beauty is, if it’s raining, it doesn’t matter,” said Sherri. “A hot St. Louis summer, it doesn’t matter. We are indoors. I thought summer would be dead, but it was very busy. ... What surprised us most is how far away people come from to play. We have had people from Indiana.”
Comments she hears: “I didn’t realize what a workout it was” and “It’s hard not to laugh and have fun.”
Robin Berry, of Alton, agrees.
She and a group of about 30 co-workers from American Water Resources in Alton had a corporate team building event there on Monday evening, Dec. 14. For other annual outings, they have gone bowling, attended painting parties and played basketball in go-karts. Her group ranged in age from 28 to 62. Some were athletic; others weren’t, but it didn’t matter, she said.
“We always try to do some kind of activity with the supervisers,” said Robin, 47, an administrative assistant. “One of the managers had gone and suggested that. I am the one who puts it together. I had never heard of anything like that before. I thought it sounded exciting, like something we would do.”
“Oh my gosh, it’s wild. It’s amazing. I don’t know if it’s more fun playing or watching, seeing your co-workers out there sweating. ... Clayton was an excellent referee. He kept the ball rolling. We didn’t have to think about anything.”
Great American Human Foosball
Here’s what you need to know about the game.
- What: Lifesize version of the tabletop soccer game
- Where: 3227 Morganford Road, St. Louis
- Hours: Open by reservation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
- Cost: $210 for the first 18 people to rent the facility for two hours; $7 for each additional person. If it’s a family event, small children can play giant checkers, mini foosball, giant Yahtzee, foot pool and giant Connect Four. Light snacks are available for purchase, but guests may bring in food and non-alcoholic drinks.
- What to wear: Dress comfortably and wear tennis shoes.
- Height requirement: Your shoulder height must be 40 inches. Typically, 8- and 9-year-olds just about make it. Smaller children accompanied by an adult are welcome to play other life-size games.
- Do you have to be athletic to play? “No,” said Sherri. “You don’t have to have endurance. It’s a level playing field for everybody. Because everybody is in a stationary position, you don’t get hit or runover.”
- Do you have to have a team? “If they don’t come in with teams in place, the game facilitator does it the old school way. He has them choose two team captains, and lets them take turns choosing their team. Then, there’s that frightful feeling if you have ever gotten picked last. We encourage people to pick teams before they arrive.”
- How long is a game? “League games are 35 minutes. Parties have 10- to 15-minute games so everyone gets a chance to play.
- Leagues: Play between 6 and 9 p.m. Thursdays. The next league begins March 24.
- Specials: Kid nights out is the third Friday of the month. Parents can drop kids off for 2 1/2 hours. She partners with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who want to work on badges.
- Contact: 314-882-6191 or www.greatamericanhumanfoosball.com