As Paul Stanko was walking out of the regional knockouts Friday afternoon, a couple stopped him. “Who are you guys? Why are they filming him?” they asked, pointing to his partner, Edd Benda, who was talking in front of a camera crew.
It happens at least 10 times a day, Stanko said. “And every time we sit down at a table, someone says how nice it is to see young people playing.” Benda added, “It doesn’t hurt that we’re dressed like a 1990s boy band.”
Even when the bulky cameras are out of sight, the matching jackets always catch people’s attention. After joking that Benda was a celebrity, Stanko explained to the couple that their team, which includes Stefanie Woodburn and Monique Thomas, is sponsored by Baron Barclay.
“Sponsored? You must be high-level players.”
Well, not exactly. They were playing in bracket four and got knocked out in the first round. This isn’t the bridge version of being sponsored, where a client hires top players to play with them. This is more like the skateboarding version of being sponsored, where a company gives you branded clothing.
“I always associated bridge with a game old people play,” said Benda, whose grandmother played. But he discovered there was more to it when he found out about ACBL tournaments. “Being a filmmaker and a storyteller, what a fun world to explore. What is it like to be a young person wandering into the world of bridge?”
The Los Angeles–based group began taking bridge lessons last May from Samantha MacDouglas and Brian Reynolds. The teachers tried to give the group the intense boot camp they were asking for while keeping the emphasis on fun. MacDouglas describes her teaching philosophy as “less is more” and advises teachers to say as little as possible. Reynolds explained, “Kids will figure stuff out way faster than you think they will, and they will self-select” if they are interested enough to want to learn more.
“If you’re not having fun on day one, you’re not going to stay,” said Woodburn, an online gamer who sometimes live-streams her online bridge practice on Twitch.
The Philadelphia NABC is the team’s fourth tournament and the last one they plan to include in the film. They’ve also played in two Southern California regionals – winning their first event, a bracket three knockout in Riverside – and the San Diego NABC, where they entered the Reisinger and came in last, scoring just 4 points in two sessions. “Not zero,” Benda said.
They’re planning to enter the Vanderbilt, with similar expectations. “Underdogs like us can swing for the fences,” Stanko said, adding that the team uniforms help give them the confidence to compete.
The jackets were Thomas’s idea. There’s a cute moment in the YouTube video, which was filmed their first days together, where she explains her decision to join the team, saying, “Hopefully we’ll have some sort of matching jackets.” The stars of “The Kids Table” haven’t quite achieved all of their dreams yet, but at least that one is checked off, thanks to Baron Barclay.
“We’re happy to have their brand displayed on our backs,” Benda said. “They’re interested in the future of the game.”