Blink and you might just miss it. The blur of crisscrossing hands and zigzagging neon cups is probably the weirdest organized sport you've never heard of. Dubbed sport stacking, this rapid-fire competition could at first glance be mistaken for some peculiar carnival game. Players are tasked with arranging 12 lightweight plastic cups into various formations; a stacking kit comes with a touch-pad timer and cups that have a trio of holes in the bottom to reduce air resistance. At slower speeds, it seems easy enough: build up pyramids and break them down in a predetermined sequence. But as the game has become increasingly popular--some 15,000 schools and recreation centers worldwide have bought group stacking kits in the past three years--the tempo, not to mention the dang-this-makes-adults-feel-old factor, has really picked up.
After Steven Purugganan broke the world record at last year's championship by up- and down-stacking six pyramids in just over six seconds, the 11-year-old from Longmeadow, Mass., garnered an endorsement deal from McDonald's. And when he clocked in at 5.93 sec. at a regional tournament in January, fellow stackers started sending him YouTube videos of their routines, asking for his advice. "I tell them to keep a light grip, that you need to practice like any other sport, working to get faster every single day," he says.
More than 1,000 players will descend on Denver on April 18 for the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA) Championships, where Purugganan will be competing alongside another up-and-cupping celebrity: 14-year-old Luke Myers, who can be seen stacking in a TV ad urging kids to eat more eggs. (The kicker? The ding! of an egg timer, of course.)
WSSA was founded by physical-education teacher Bob Fox, who noticed how a simple hand-eye coordination drill could inspire students to compete against each other--and themselves--by improving their times. When he started offering after-school stacking workshops in 1995, the response was astonishing. "You would get a couple dozen students for a workshop on basketball or juggling, but with stacking, there were 200 kids," he recalls. Fox says his company, Speed Stacks, which charges $30 for an individual set of cups, mat and timer, has annual revenues of $4 million.
Stack fast enough and you can break a sweat. John Taylor, a PE teacher in Ohio, says he now integrates cup-stacking into more than half his classes, often as an incentive to get kids to participate in more-rigorous activities. "We have a relay where students will run 10 yards, then stack a pyramid," he says. "It makes exercise more fun for them." Can an Olympic debut be far behind?