Famous for foos
Durango woman rises through international foosball ranks

Jim Stevens and Amy Eckhart knock the ball around on their home court. Eckhart has been rapidly rising through the ranks of international foosball, thanks partly to help from Stevens, her coach and husband. Eckhart’s skill at the game took her to France in January to compete in the World Cup./Photo by Brandon Mathis

by Brandon Mathis

Durango’s Amy Eckhart has the ball. She dribbles it back and forth before setting up a clever shot and outwitting her opponent. With a sudden, powerful flick of her wrist, she strikes the ball and slams it into the goal with a loud “whack.”

“The sound of the ball going into the back of the goal is very addicting,” said Eckhart with a grin.

Eckhart plays foosball, and she’s quite good. In fact, she’s one of the fastest rising woman foosball players in the United States, according to her coach and husband, Jim Stevens.

Eckhart entered Fort Lewis in 1996 to study political science and accidentally bumped into her first foosball table in a garage at a party. “My second year of college, we all moved off campus and my friends would have parties,” she said. “I wasn’t a drinker, but I saw a foosball table and thought, ‘Sweet, I’ll give it a try.’ The guys said I’d never beat them and I thought, ‘Hmmm.’ Now, those guys, well, they won’t even play me."

Stevens is a member of the Foosball Hall of Fame and runs Inside Foos Productions. Her husband has covered international foosball since 1993 and is now a global commentator on the sport. He notes that foosball has grown way beyond its barroom roots. “There is a national and international tour that hits about 15 different cities in the U.S with over $400,000 in prize money," he said.

Foos has a much bigger following overseas. “There are more players in Europe,” Stevens added. “It has a longer history there. But the best players are in the U.S., where there is a longer history of playing professionally. We have 17 of the top 20 players in the world.”

Now retired from professional competition, Stevens coaches players and works with Eckhart on her skills. He is excited about her rapid progression. “She’s a little ahead of schedule,” he said. “She took it from that garage and worked her way up. Now she’s giving Durango a name for foosball.”

At a professional level, there are certain rules that may not hold sway at the local pub. Both Eckhart and Stevens agree that there is much more to it than what you might see downtown. “It’s a lot more technical than just walking by and saying ‘oh, there’s a foosball table,’” said Eckhart.

Local foosball champ Amy Eckhart shows off her accolades. Eckhart got her start in foos during college and went on to win the Women’s Doubles World Championships in 2009. She is currently ranked 22nd in the world./Photo by Brandon Mathis

“It’s about getting the ball exactly where you want it instead of just spinning the rods and smacking the ball like you might see at bars on a Saturday night,” Stevens added. “Like in baseball, a pitcher might have a curve ball or a fast ball, but the batter doesn’t know what’s coming. Foosball is that same kind of mind game.”

Eckhart has mastered a few plays that give her a competitive edge. She baffles her opponents by setting up identical shots and then misleads them into defending the wrong one. Her clever game is built on strategy and speed, said Stevens, who added that female players often use strategy to their advantage.

Eckhart trains on the table for an hour everyday and also practices by playing the game. She jokes that she swims just to build her arms. “I love to swim, and I have a focus when I am swimming. I have that same focus on foosball,” she said.

Eckhart recalled her early foosball days and the excitement of gaining mastery of the game. “When I started playing, I would go to bed at night dreaming about the next day because I wanted to try a certain pass,” she said. “I’d never seen pro foosball, and when I did it gave me a whole other level to dream about.”

The couple recently prepared for a trip to Las Vegas for the Women’s Open. Such tournaments can be grueling multi-day marathons of intense playing for 12 hours or more. “You’re head to head with your opponent 3 feet away from you, the ball is going 50 miles an hour and there’s $10,000 on the line,” said Stevens. “If you can perform under those kind of circumstances, those are the players that are going to win.”

Nonetheless, the vibe at Eckhart and Stevens’ home is relaxed and confident, and as Eckhart stands next to a wall of accolades, one gets the notion that she is having a good time doing what she loves. “When I was in high school, my dad said to find something you love to do and figure out a way to make money doing it,” she said. “Now I own my own child-care center and with foosball, I don’t make a living by it, but I can go to a tournament and win, and it offsets the cost of it. Yeah, it’s great.”

Running a child-care center and traveling the world playing foosball at a professional level, Eckhart is constantly on the go. But she is still most at home in Durango and seems to genuinely love the lifestyle. “I call it Fooscation,” she said. “I can play foosball and just be in the moment and nothing else in the world matters. It’s like therapy – just me, and the ball. I never thought it would come to this. Kids by day, and foosball by night.” •



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