Sam Dijohn couldn’t tell you who the oldest person that he’s beaten at foosball is. He just knows that they’re somewhere around five times his age.
“It feels good to beat up on old men,” joked the Duanesburg foosball prodigy.
Of course, 60 isn’t that old. But to a 12-year-old kid, his competitors could be his grandparents.
However you look at it, the pre-teen has spent the last nine years of his life — yes, it started when he was three — perfecting his craft and working to become a foosball master by traveling the world and attending tournaments in Germany, Spain and across the U.S.
Last weekend, during the 2021 Florida State Championships, Dijohn accomplished what was once seen as impossible; he became the youngest player in foosball history to earn the “pro” ranking, the second-highest ranking in foosball, only behind “pro master.” Dijohn has raked in 3,000 “points” at tournaments to get to where he is now. But to Dijohn, there’s no time to celebrate. He’s already got his eyes on the next accomplishment: Earning 2,000 more for the next ranking.
“What I look forward to is either turning master or getting a gold medal in France in 2022,” Dijohn said.
Two years from now will be Sam’s first trip to the Foosball World Cup, taking place in Nantes, France. Players will be competing from around the globe, with Dijohn representing the U.S. at the junior level. Dijohn’s father, Nino, knows how big of a moment this can be for his son, who already has a sponsor in apparel and accessory brand Foosgear.
“It’s pretty important for us to get it out there because people don’t look at it and understand how big it really is,” Nino said. “But when you have a 12 year old, he’s making people’s heads turn.”
Before getting to the level where he could play the world cup, Sam first discovered foosball as a toddler through his father’s passion. Nino grew up playing the game, also competing at a high level.
Soon enough, Nino realized his own son had a passion for it, as did Sam’s older sister Hannah. So Sam’s parents, including mother Jennifer, would sit him up on a chair so he could reach the table, and by the time he turned seven, he was competing against other players.
Tournaments are run by International Foosball Promotions, which executes a tour throughout the year for players to meet and compete, as well as the annual World Championships in Kentucky. International events such as the World Cup are regulated by the International Table Soccer Federation, with 500 players from 30 countries competing in 2013. But getting there has taken some practice on Sam’s part.
“Me and my dad usually play 45 minutes to an hour every other day,” Sam said. “We usually play against each other and then we’d do drills like passing, maybe five of each. And then we’d shoot a bag of balls.”
Despite the countless trophies on the Dijohns’ wall, and his friends who come by to unsuccessfully try their luck against their foosball prodigy pal, Sam and Nino still hope the sport will eventually be recognized by the Olympics.
“The goal is to make this an Olympic sport,” Nino said. “You know, all the internal people are working on it. There’s federations and there’s a lot of stuff going on with a sport where it’s really growing in leaps and bounds. And, you know, the Olympics is our goal.”
Getting to olympic territory is a tough one. To become recognized, a sport must be a member of an International Sports Federation and be recognized by the International Olympic Committee, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 2017, there was speculation that the sport would see some Olympic recognition, but ultimately, despite gaining “observer” status, it was not accepted into the 2020 Olympics.
Still, even though foosball has not earned Olympic recognition just yet, Nino and others have been able to bring the sport some deserved attention in the Capital Region in recent years. 518 Foosball, a local club that played every Friday night at Trick Shot Billiards in Clifton Park, just got the “OK to start back up” in the near future after being absent for a year.
“We’re just hoping to get back up and play Saturday events up there in Clifton Park, which is an all-day event where we have people traveling from different places,” Nino said. “Buffalo, Rochester, they’d come up and play in tournaments, we do that every other month.”
But for now, Sam’s focus is that “master” distinction.
“I’ve been playing the game my whole life. And he’s accomplished things that, you know, grown men and grown women haven’t accomplished and they’ve been playing their whole life,” Nino said. “So it’s humbling because it’s a sport that I’ve loved as a kid. It’s just, it’s been phenomenal to see.”