Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Long-time game worker looks back

Thursday, September 19, 2019
Splinterhead Joe peers out of his basketball booth to search for customers at the SEMO District Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Photo by Zach Tate

While almost everyone knows what it’s like to attend a fair, not many know what it’s like behind the scenes.

Game workers often work fairs for years, traveling the country for months at a time to deliver fun to the communities they visit.

Game workers sometimes refer to themselves as "splinterheads," a term popularized by the 2009 film, “Splinterheads.”

Joe, a self-declared splinterhead, said he has been traveling with RJ concessions for some 30 years. His brother owns the company, which provides a handful of games featured at the SEMO District Fair.

A shark stuffed animal sits propped inside a basketball hoop at a booth at the SEMO District Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Photo by Zach Tate

After three decades, Joe said he has become somewhat of a master of all trades when it comes to fair games, but his favorite to work is the basketball toss.

“Getting them up here is the best part about it,” Joe said from behind the basketball toss line. “When I get them up here, they’re mine. The hard part is getting them up here.”

A favorite tactic he uses to attract players is rolling the basketballs out into the crowd, hoping a passerby will pick it up and come play.

“I’ll tell you what, it works more often than it doesn’t,” Joe said with a laugh.

Although Joe said there are not a whole lot of winners at the basketball toss, he admitted he hates to see customers walk away without a smile on their face. Joking with them throughout their time at his stand, Joe said he sometimes gives kids an extra shot, so long as they give their parents a big hug.

Joe demonstrates to a child the best technique to make a basket at his booth at the SEMO District Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Photo by Zach Tate

Even with a steady flow of customers at his stand, Joe said he has noticed a change in the fair environment over the years.

“It’s getting slower every year. This year ain’t bad, here ain’t bad,” Joe said. “But there are some spots where you’ll be in like a mall parking lot, and it’s just got low attendance.”

Even when attendance is low, he said he may never walk away.

Community member Hugh Moon shoots a basket at a booth at the SEMO District Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Photo by Zach Tate

“It’s in your blood. Once you get used to it, it’s in your blood,” Joe said. “Carnival business ain’t for everybody.”

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