From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
July: Losing Our Way
IT’S PROBABLY only a rumor that the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) is going to prohibit member nations from referring to the game as “American 9-ball” in the future, but I have to admit I wouldn’t blame them if they did.
It’s really gotten that bad.
Name the last American-born player to win a “major” championship, men’s or women’s. Not easy, is it?
(Answer: Shane Van Boening, U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, Oct. 2007; and Monica Webb, WPBA San Diego Classic, April 2009.)
The fact of the matter is that, even with those wins, American pool players are almost an afterthought these days when oddsmakers and railbirds begin sizing up the favorites prior to the start of a big international pool tournament.
And that’s sad.
Granted, elephants were still running for cover from billiard ball companies when I started with Billiards Digest, but the swiftness with which America’s pool “cred” has disappeared is staggering.
Right on through the mid-1990s, the U.S. still maintained a stranglehold on the sport. The first three WPA World 9-Ball Championships featured all-U.S. finals in the men’s division (after which the Pro Billiards Tour-led boycott of the WPA took the top men out of play until 1997), and in the first four WPA women’s finals, seven of eight finalists were American-born.
That’s only 15 years ago!
How bad is it? At the recent World Pool Masters in Las Vegas, the U.S. fielded 15 players in the 64-player field, and saw only one player (Charlie Williams, who tied for fifth) reach the quarterfinals. What’s worse, no one seemed surprised.
The 128-player U.S. Open 10-Ball Championship featured slightly better representation, with Van Boening finishing third. Williams and Rodney Morris tied for seventh, but again those three were the only Americans in the top 12.
These days the American ladies of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Classic Tour aren’t faring much better. Aside from Webb, who posted one win at the tail end of 2008 and her second at the start of 2009, the last American woman to win a Classic Tour title was Jeanette Lee. Know when? The Billiard Congress of America Open 9-Ball Championships in 2001! That was also the year Lee won the World Games gold medal. The last American-born woman world champ? Loree Jon Jones, 1993.
Now, granted, the Allison Fisher era rendered pretty much every country titleless for nearly a decade, but come on! This is OUR game, dammit!
At this point the problem has gone way past the “other countries have established sports programs for pool,” and “Americans aren’t hungry enough because they’ve dominated the sport for so long” stage.
There are many factors that go into the U.S. title drought, and the pair mentioned above still have at least some credence. The more formal, technical training done in other countries has, indeed, produced loads of solid, young players.
Then again, the Philippines isn’t exactly noted for state-run training facilities and coaching, and the slew of talent coming off that little island shows no signs of easing up. And how about players from the United Kingdom? Appleton, Peach, Boyes, et al, are making their presence felt in all the big events.
From my perch, it looks like a simple case of commitment and dedication. Do our players, male or female, put in the time required to be champion? Or do they still think they can be part-time players and still win?
America does have some young talent, like Van Boening, Oscar Dominguez and Sarah Rousey. But we’re going to have to find a way to cultivate and nurture a lot more.
If not, we’re going to need a spot just to compete in our own game.