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Hot shots and cool cues



Denise Cintron, co-owner of Shooter’s Billiards

Denise Cintron, co-owner of Shooter’s Billiards Food and Brew House, examines her shot. The smoke-free atmosphere provides safe recreation for all. ANTHONY INSWASTY

Pool playing has become a family affair for fun and even health benefits

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

What comes to mind when you think of a pool hall? Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in The Hustler? Or, perhaps, Tom Cruise in The Color of Money?

Just like Rodney Dangerfield syndrome, playing pool has not been a poster sport for respectability. The industry was in a state of steady decline, brought on by years of stigma attached to neighborhoods riddled with crime.

But shooting pool has made a comeback, thanks, in part, to a revival that has replaced the negative images of the past — thick cigar smoke, hustlers and high-stakes moneyball games — with family fun in a safe environment.

In a world dominated by instant entertainment, pool halls are being revitalized into bustling enterprises adding sports bar flair to the aura of pool. Promoted as a great indoor game that has social benefits for young and old alike, pool playing has many health advantages: helping the brain focus on hand-eye coordination while gaining a greater sense of agility, concentration and balance. It sharpens the mind using mental calculations to strategize plays. The game is even an example of applied physics and geometry.

A new wave of pool playing for amateur pool enthusiasts was launched on the Treasure Coast by Jeffrey Howell. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he played in an American Poolplayers Association (APA) league, Howell relocated to Port St. Lucie after working for a franchise, learning the business inside and out. He and his wife, Cassie, decided to search open territory for an APA franchise of their own and became operators five years ago, serving St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties.

“The APA was founded by two professional players and Billiard Hall of Famers, Terry Bell and Larry Hubbart (who passed away in 2013),” says Howell. “They based it on a recreational league system similar to bowling. Terry Bell visits Stuart every year for three months after Christmas through March.”

ORIGINS OF THE GAME
Considered one of the safest sports in the world, the “noble game of billiards” came into being sometime during the 15th century in France and is said to have evolved from a lawn game, similar to croquet. It was eventually moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth, meant to simulate grass where a ball was puttered about with small mallets.

Enthusiasts included kings and queens, commoners and monks, barons and aristocrats, but people from all walks of life enjoy the game today. Amateurs and those who have honed their skills as professionals are in league with a new generation of trick-shot experts who have turned their craft into performance art.

UNITED THEY STAND
Under a banner of old fashioned Americana, the APA welcomes those of any ability, background or social standing. The APA is the world’s largest amateur pool player organization, has more than 300,000 members, and maintains nearly 300 franchise holders in more than 8,000 locations in 46 states, competing in eight-ball and nine-ball leagues throughout North America and Japan.

The APA is comprised of players of all skill levels and has roughly 2,000 members on the Treasure Coast. It is recognized as one of the top small business and home-based franchise opportunities in the world, earning awards from Entrepreneur and Forbes magazines. It received a number-one ranking in 2015 from the Franchise Business Review for the Sports & Recreation Franchises category.

As the governing body of amateur pool, the APA sanctions official rules, championships, formats and handicap systems for the sport and produces three major tournaments annually: the APA National Team Championships, the APA National Singles Championships and the U.S. Amateur Championship which, combined, pay out $2 Million in cash and prizes. Local teams vie for these championship titles in Las Vegas every summer.

Overall, Florida sends more teams to the World Championship tournament than any other state. There are more APA players statewide, and every county in Florida has a league. There is no limit to physical abilities; there is even a Wheelchair Championship for wheelchair-bound members who play weekly in local events. And membership is growing.

TOGETHER THEY PLAY
APA league teams have the opportunity to advance to the APA World Pool Championships. In 2010, Guinness World Records recognized this event as the World’s Largest Pool Tournament. In addition, the APA also hosts a second tournament, the APA Poolplayer Championships, in Las Vegas each spring for individuals.

The APA’s U.S. Amateur Championship is the pool world’s most prestigious tournament for novices, which is the only competition open to APA members and nonmembers alike. Preliminaries are held in Port St. Lucie with finals in Tampa every November.

Players compete in three, 16-week sessions annually (commencing in summer, through fall and spring), advancing to the TriCups. The goal is to send a number of teams to the World Qualifier in June. Winners advance to the world championships in August.

Division play includes Juniors, Ladies, Doubles, Jack-and-Jill (man and woman), Scotch Doubles (two-person team but alternate shots), Eight- and Nine-Ball Teams and Master Division-no handicap (four-person team).

The area 2018 send-off included a total of 60: two eight-ball teams, a nine-ball team, two master teams, one ladies’ team, one Jack-and-Jill, and two eight- and nine-ball Scotch Doubles. This summer, five members attended the new tournament, the Team Captains Championship.

“For 2019, we will send over 60 players from this area to Las Vegas,” Howell says. Players receive travel assistance toward flight and room accommodations with all entry fees paid. From novice to pro, playing the game of pool is for all ages. There is a growing junior division (ages eight to 17) with nearly 40 youths involved on the Treasure Coast, including Okeechobee County.

“Some youth do not have parents who play pool,” Howell comments. “Some schools share Facebook posts about the Junior League to get them away from video games; it is a safe alternative because of the group interaction.”

CLEAN ATMOSPHERE
In its heyday, pool halls were smoke-filled. The APA was formed to follow the guidelines of bowling leagues — established for camaraderie, recreation and a fun night out. A side benefit of playing pool is the boost to self-esteem, especially if you do well. And if you are single and looking for a possible mate, the game can be a good start for a conversation.

All players have an enforced casual dress code: dress shoes or nice tennis shoes, dress pants or nice jeans (no holes, rips or tears), belt and collared shirt or APA shirt.

League operators are a dedicated breed. To introduce new people to the game, there are incentives to grow the league by inviting a friend or neighbor for free. National guidelines are fashioned for localities: members pay annual dues with a portion going to the APA. While members pay annual dues to APA a portion of their weekly dues are pooled for team winnings and travel assistance to Las Vegas, along with trophies, plaques, patches and more.

BEER AND BILLIARDS
League operators work together to make it a good experience for the players. The intention is for one big family to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. A league partner in Port St. Lucie is seeing rapid growth and has opened a second pool hall within 13 months of establishing a premier pool hall on U.S. 1.

Shooter’s Billiards Food and Brew House, owned by Dave Cintron, opened in July 2017. It is one of the homes for the APA World Qualifier Tournament. With 22 Diamond Pro-Am (Blue Label) seven- and nine-foot tables as well as darts and ping-pong, the upscale, non-smoking, family-friendly atmosphere provides a good environment for all.

There is a pro shop for supplies, and gift certificates are available. Shooter’s offers food, 23 varieties of draft beer on tap (including Fort Pierce’s own Sailfish Brewing Company IPA brew), wine, live music and lots of tournaments. A second location in Stuart (formerly Amy’s Billiards) was opened in August.

Jeanette Lee, “The Black Widow,” an APA league operator from Tampa and one of the world-renowned female pool players, came at Howell’s invitation to share her exhibition style of play and mix with the members at Shooter’s. Promoting the APA, she had autographed items for sale and accepted challenge matches.

“Out-of-state players are coming to Port St. Lucie for competition because they have state-of-the-art Diamond tables,” Howell says. “It’s fun to just come in and watch. The beauty of Shooter’s is you can play all day and all night for five dollars.” On Sundays, league play begins at 5 p.m. and teams arrive around 4:30 for warm-up. During the week, league play is offered in the evenings and afternoons on Saturday and Sunday.



FACEBOOK REVIEWS ARE IMPRESSIVE

“Beautiful place and clean! Visiting from PA with 2 grandkids. All enjoyed playing pool on good tables!”
— Rosanne Marchini

“Came to Shooter’s this weekend … and I have to say that from the staff, equipment, open concept, cleanliness, location, everything about Shooter’s Billiards is top notch. Will certainly be back every opportunity I have!”
— Cori Crane, South Daytona, Florida


APA USAM Prelim tournament in September is an open format

Anyone can play. A prestigious tournament, with up to 120 visitors from Orlando to Miami, play is at Shooter’s. Qualifiers from all over the country go to Tampa for the championship. Seven winners will represent the Treasure Coast in November.

To learn more or sign up for a team, go to www.treasurecoast.apaleagues.com or contact Jeff Howell at 919-669-9027.

GAME FOR ALL AGES


Cole Iken

Cole Iken, a 14-year-old athlete who balances playing pool and baseball, earned a national ranking (13th place) last year in a field of over 500 teen players. He practices trick shots on the side and has an Instagram following. TREASURE COAST AMERICAN POOLPLAYERS ASSOCIATION

Last summer, the local league sponsored a 14-year-old to the Junior National Championship in Iowa. Cole Iken plays as a junior once a month and joins an adult team every weekend with his parents, Carl and Traci Iken. Now 15, Cole has become a very good pool player, learning from the more experienced members, Howell says.

Cole garnered a 13th place national standing in a field of over 500. “It felt good to know that I was one of the top players in the country,” he says. Three days of play at varied skill levels leading to semi-finals with double elimination meant shooting two games a day, ending with match play. Cole had to make 55 balls to win the final game in the black tier, which is the highest. He said he did it by controlling the cue ball, making sure that spin was set for the next shot and using English on the ball.

“We play on a Sunday team at Shooter’s,” says mom Traci. They’ve been playing for over a decade, and the game offers them wholesome, family fun. “As long as you are willing to learn something new and not be so competitive,” she adds. “Even grandparents bring in their grandchildren. I know people through social media who see us play and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to try that.’ It’s a great way to make friends.”

When the adult team had an opportunity to play in Las Vegas, they met other APA players from around the nation. “It takes a lot of practice and work; we strive to make the qualifier. We enjoy it and don’t see it as ‘practice’ because it’s something we love to do,” Traci says.

COOL POOL SHOOTING
Cole’s personal interest is trick shots, practicing during his free time at home. Encouraged by his parents, he videotapes himself on an iPad and uploads to social media. He says the younger players are mature and work hard at their goals, supporting each other like an extended family.

Cole began shooting pool at age 6. Managing his own social media since he was 12, the teen has a following on Instagram [Ikendotrickshots] where he posts videos of his novelty shots. He is not eligible to compete in Las Vegas because he is under the age of 18.

“I have known players for years, those who taught me the basics, how to hold a stick and where to stand,” he says. “They make me feel comfortable, like I accomplished something. You win a game every now and then, do something for your team … it’s really amazing.”

What do his peers think? “Friends think it’s pretty cool,” he says. Cole’s advice to other young people: “It’s fun once you get the hang of it; it takes a lot of practice and patience. I found that shots will become second nature; I was able to see the angles since I was a young kid.”