Decatur student competing in cup stacking world championship in MarchDecatur High School student Sam Epstein will be competing in the cup stacking world championships in March 2024 in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — What started as an activity learned in elementary school that became a hobby has led one Decatur student to compete in the world championship tournament in cup stacking.
Sam Epstein, a Decatur High School student, first learned about cup stacking in a physical education class in second grade. He is ranked No. 2 in Georgia for the current season and No. 11 in the state overall throughout his career.
With a record of 6.578 seconds in the cycle formation, Epstein will be competing in the sport stacking world championship in March in Orlando, Florida.
Cup stacking first started in 1981 in California and has gained an international following over the years. In cup stacking, the goal is to assemble cups in different formations and then disassemble them as quickly as possible, Decaturish previously reported.
“I got a set of cups, a mat, and a timer. I bought it with my Christmas money in 2016 and ever since then I’ve been stacking,” Epstein said.
Each year since then, Epstein has competed in the local World Sport Stacking Association’s (WSSA) Hotlanta competition and the Junior Olympics.
“It was right down the road, so we decided to go. I did really well, and I met a lot of cup stackers there,” Epstein said of his first time competing at Hotlanta.
Meeting some of the world’s record-holders inspired Epstein and got him more interested in the sport.
Tournaments went virtual in 2020, but Epstein managed to compete in three tournaments before the COVID-19 pandemic. He became part of Team USA in 2021.
“I feel like the community grew then,” Epstein said. “There were more new people at tournaments than before because it was also easy. Let’s say you were trying to do your first tournament, you now don’t have to fly to so-and-so or drive to so-and-so, you could just Zoom in.”
Epstein took a break in 2022 to a change in the rules related to the timer, but started again in early 2023. Last year, he competed in a tournament at the Mall of America in Minnesota.
“I had a really good tournament there. I’ve carried that momentum and [am] going to go to the world championships,” Epstein said.
The stacking community is a good group to be a part of, Epstein added. While it is competitive, there is also a sense of camaraderie among the athletes, and they will cheer each other on.
“People don’t really care about what place they get, it’s more [about] focusing on the time that they can get best,” he said.
It’s difficult to get a perfect stack and often the places at tournaments are determined by a tiny fraction of a second, which makes the sport pretty competitive. At competitions, stackers get three attempts to do their stacks and compete for the fastest time.
“Three chances sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not, especially when you’re moving fast,” Epstein said. “Cups are really sensitive. They’re prone to falling over, that’s what makes it so hard.”
Lenea Epstein, Sam’s mother, said she was faster than her son for about two days when he first brought home a set of cups. The pair watched videos online and learned to do the different stacks together.
“He didn’t get it immediately, so we were learning it together. I got a little bit faster than he did initially, but it only lasted for a couple of days, and then he was faster than me for the rest of time,” Lenea said.
The mother-son duo also compete in child-parent doubles on occasion for fun, in which case they can each only use one hand and have to work together to complete the stacks.
Sam Epstein is looking forward to meeting new people at the world championships and checking off a long-time goal of his.
“Worlds has always been a goal of mine,” Epstein said. “The fact that it’s the culmination of everything I’ve been doing [is exciting].”
Leana added that going to worlds was something Sam always talked about when he started stacking.
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