Sheepshead holds its own in Wisconsin Rapids

  • Article by: DEB CLEWORTH
  • Associated Press
  • March 24, 2014 - 12:05 AM

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. — It's just a bit past 6:30 p.m. on a quiet weeknight in Wisconsin Rapids. With daylight lingering, a smattering of cars are in the Good Time Charlie's Sports Bar parking lot, and a small group of men begin to gather at a table just past the bar.

Chairs are pulled up, and cards, coupled with friendly banter, are shuffled. Pill bottles contain change for the game pot, and players finger quarters. Different beverages, including soda and orange juice, are at the ready to refresh the players.

The men are there to play a card game that spans decades and was once a popular pastime during free time at Lincoln High School and family gatherings.

It's not poker or cribbage — it's sheepshead. Although its popularity might have diminished somewhat, at least according to a few card-playing fans, the game still is holding its own.

None of the players knew each other before they started playing at Charlie's. In fact, one of the players quipped: "We hate each other," but the comment is met with instant laughter.

"I learned the game at about age 22; they used to play it where I worked," said Mike Lisak of Wisconsin Rapids. At 57, Lisak is considered one of the youngsters of the group that plays weekly at the tavern. He then joined a group of players in Wisconsin Rapids, but he said none of those players are around anymore.

"So we're continuing it on," Lisak told Daily Tribune Media (

The game used to draw as many as 50 local players, Lisak said.

"Now we're down to like six," Lisak said. "It's not something young people do."

The game may seem complicated.

"It'd be hard to teach you, but once you know it, it's pretty simple," Lisak said.

Many of the players learned the game as children and teens.

"My parents used to have people over all the time that played; I watched," said Mary Suskey, a bartender at Charlie's who recently joined the group. "My grandpa taught me cribbage; my dad taught me sheepshead."

Al Piekarski of Junction City, 73, learned the game as a teenager.

"I've been playing since I was in high school and the old man had the (Hiawatha Inn) tavern," Piekarski said.

Although the game doesn't seem to draw the young crowd it once did, there are dedicated players.

"Last year, a guy came (to Wisconsin Rapids) all the way from Milwaukee to play," said Glen Danielson, 74, of Wisconsin Rapids.

Through the end of March, Good Time Charlie's is home to a state tournament on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"The game, to me, is fun to play," said Lisak, who enjoys the social aspect as much as the challenge of the game. "You get to think a lot about trying to win; you can make a couple dollars some nights."

Ken Skiba, manager of Good Time Charlie's, enjoys hosting the players.

"It's just an interesting night, listening to them tell old stories — friendship over a card game and a few drinks," he said.

Skiba prefers his observation spot from a nearby bar stool.

"I haven't played sheepshead since I was in high school, which was a number of years ago, and I'm not telling you how long ago that was," he said with a laugh. He played with his grandparents as a child and his senior year at Lincoln High School.

Family gatherings often included pinochle, followed in the evening by games of sheepshead or rummy with his grandparents, Skiba said.

All ages and levels are welcome, Lisak said.

"We certainly would welcome more players," Lisak said. "We play year-round."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Daily Tribune Media

© 2018 Star Tribune