By Scott Kindberg
LAKEWOOD - Jason Sivak stood on the hillside behind the stage of The Empty Pint at Southern Tier Brewery on Saturday afternoon, surveyed all the people and all the activity around him and smiled.
Thirty-two two-person teams are competing in the World Championships of Stones this weekend at Southern Tier Brewery in Lakewood. Jason Sivak of Lakewood, is the president and co-founder of the Stones Throwing Association.
"This is probably one of the rainiest days we've had all summer,'' he said as water dripped from the hood of his raincoat, ''but we couldn't cancel, because we've got people coming from all over."
No one, not even Mother Nature, was going to spoil Sivak's day.
"He's a gambler," 81-year-old Roy Widner said of his grandson. "He gets a thought and he works on it."
And works on it.
And works on it.
Sivak and a few of his buddies have apparently got it right.
For the record, 32 two-person teams, including some from as far away as Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, showed up at, fittingly, Stoneman Circle to participate in the first World Championship of Stones, a two-day event that actually had its humble beginnings at a campsite on Memorial Day weekend in 2006.
"Every time we camped," said Sivak, the owner of a stonemasonry business in Bemus Point, "I would create something for us to compete at."
So during that holiday weekend, Sivak and his buddies took a set of balls they had brought with them and began to throw them around. They even brought out a lawn mower and mowed small miniature golf-like holes into the tall grass and played bocce on them.
By the end of the weekend, rules were created for something they called bocce golf.
It was merely the beginning.
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So what is Stones?
According to the Stones Throwing Association of which Sivak is the president and co-founder, it is ''a ball sport belonging to the boules sport family. Similar to bocce or lawn bowling, it follows the basic gameplay of these games in which players from two teams take turns throwing their balls (or stones) in an attempt to have them rest closest to the smaller target ball, but that is the end of their similarities.
"What makes Stones unique is its playing surface, its course obstacles, its boundaries, its equipment, the way a winner is determined, and as a result of all this, the overall strategy."
A number of private courses are located in the northeastern United States, but the first public course was built by Sivak at Southern Tier Brewing Company almost exactly a year ago. Measuring less than an acre, the course requires a variety of throwing skills and plenty of teamwork.
"I think it's just the atmosphere," said competitor Gary Malone, a native of Dublin, Ireland, who is now working as a carpenter in Toronto. "There are so many different rules, so many different circumstances and the rough terrain. It's a combination (of things)."
Akira Inman, a stone mason from Toronto, not only shares the same vocation with Sivak, but he also shares a liking for Stones.
"I like being outdoors and playing a really relaxing sport," Inman said. "You can take it as seriously as you want, which is very appealing."
"And," Malone added, "anyone can play."
The ages of Saturday's competitors ranged from 14 to 81.
The single-elimination tournament concludes today with the final eight teams scheduled to begin play at noon.
But while the winners will be determined this afternoon - they'll take home the hand-carved stone trophy and bragging rights for 2013 - the conversation about the future of the game beyond the northeast will continue.
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According to the Stones Throwing Association website, a number of public courses are either under construction or are in the planning stages.
"We always thought it would be great just to team up with breweries around the country," Sivak said.
That's quite a leap from that weekend camping trip seven years ago.
"(Jason) has always had a very curious nature," Sivak's mother, Linda, said. "We went to Europe and he was just totally captivated with the stone (architecture). That's why he wanted to get into stone masonry. He was self-taught. He had worked with his cousin, but he really liked taking on his own style, just seeing things and working with them.
"He's definitely evolved. He's gone through some interesting life challenges."