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Pokemon pastime
Brothers play card game with their parents
Pokemon Family 5 es
Brett Gerling plays with Pokemon cards and characters Wednesday evening on the living room table in his home. The Gerling family plays Pokemon together. - photo by Emily Saunders
The Gerling guys have already planned their summer vacation.

Like every year, they’re taking along some friends, namely Darkrai, Gengar and Pikachu.

Rick Gerling and his two sons, Richard, 11, and Brett, 8, will travel from Forsyth County to Indianapolis in June for the Pokemon Organized Play national championship.

The strategic card game, which originated in Japan, simulates battle between Pokemon characters by adding point values that are worth damage.

The Gerling family, including mother Cindy, have been playing in the card tournaments for about two and a half years.

In April, they took part in the regional tournament in Roswell, where Brett Gerling took third place in the junior division and his older brother took seventh.

The boys, who attend Sawnee Elementary School, walked out with about $360 worth of new cards and other Pokemon prizes.

This year’s national tournament will be the third for Richard Gerling and his father, and the second for his younger brother.

People there are “really good,” said Richard Gerling, putting emphasis on the “really.”

He’s competed in at least 30 to 40 tournaments, according to his father, and the Gerlings have traveled anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 miles total to the matches.

In tournament play, competitors prepare a deck of 60 cards, usually of one or two energy types, and submit a list of those cards beforehand.

The deck is shuffled before each game, making some of the turnout “luck of the draw,” Cindy Gerling explained.

To prepare for tournaments, the family works together to set up decks and determine the best strategies.

The craze started for the family when a then 8-year-old Richard Gerling learned about the game from a friend.

At Christmastime that year, he asked his father to take him to an upcoming tournament.

Dad agreed, winking to mom since the event still was months away.

But Richard Gerling counted down the weeks and days until the competition, Cindy Gerling said. He left that first tournament, the state round, saying it was “the best day ever.”

“He’s been hooked ever since and little brother got dragged along,” she said.

So did the parents, after thumbing through magazines for hours with other adults at the competitions.

“After I sat there for the first time for three hours and was bored, I said I’m going to try and play this,” Rick Gerling said.

He started by helping his oldest son, but soon found himself in grueling battles alongside the boys at the tournaments.

The family pools their cards together, for a collection that spills over into the thousands.

Rick Gerling said they haven’t had to spend all that much money to build up their stock, since tournaments are free and winners get access to some of the best new cards.

The first time Richard Gerling competed at a regional tournament in Orlando, he made out like a bandit.

“He won a bunch of cards,” his father said. “I’ll never forget it. I have pictures of him jumping up and down on the hotel bed, opening up cards like, ‘Ahhhh.’”

Though travel to tournaments has slowed this year, Cindy Gerling said the family has made a name for themselves in the circuit and made Pokemon friends across the country.

At a Mississippi City tournament, Richard Gerling proved his expertise, earning the praise: “That Cumming boy is a Pokemon expert.”

However, the boys agreed that “having fun” and “making friends” is the best two parts about playing the card game and entering tournaments.

“Brett is more happy-go-lucky,” their father said. “Win or lose, he doesn’t care. It’s a social event for him.”

By keeping the hobby as just that, and not getting too involved in competition, the family has maintained interest in the game.

It is still their top diversion, with cards filling the drawers in the china cabinet and mom shouting “bedtime” as her sons and husband play matches into the evening.

“Once, after we came back from Florida, we didn’t play for a whole week,” said Richard Gerling, noting that was a really long break.