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.
November: The Young & the Restless
POOL HAS always faced a tougher battle attracting young participants than most sports. For starters, pool's reputation as a veritable den of inequity is as old and well documented as the sport itself. Sure, history tells us that the proper "billiard parlor" was the domain of the wealthy aristocracy. But pool for the masses (i.e., the poolroom) has long existed in less-than-pristine locations. As longtime BD columnist George Fels once noted in his "Tips & Shafts" column titled, "The P.H." (for my money, still one of the best pieces penned during George's still-brilliant tenure at BD), most poolrooms tended to be either up a flight of stairs, or down a flight of stairs. Either way, even that fact added to pool's reputation as a game the general public wished to keep out of view of the impressionable youth.
There are, of course, several obvious barriers to entry facing pool. First and foremost is the fact that, these days, virtually all poolrooms serve alcohol. It wasn't always this way, but many room owners were all but forced to add beer, wine and spirits to survive.
This certainly isn't news to anyone in the billiard industry, but I've noticed it even more in recent months as I've toured poolrooms in numerous markets around the U.S. The lack of youth in the rooms is painfully obvious, and is continually bemoaned by room owners. Oddly enough, some room owners point to city and statewide smoking bans in public places as one of the main contributors to the falloff in youth play. That's actually a barrier I can live with. It always bothered me when room owners said that kids used to go to the poolroom because they could smoke there. Another obstacle is youth's addiction to Internet and PlayStation related recreation today. There is no doubt that simply getting a youngster interested in the sport is a huge challenge.
I recently mentioned this phenomenon to Laura Smith, former Women's Professional Billiard Association touring pro and currently the Executive Director of the Billiard Education Foundation. The BEF, formed by the Billiard Congress of America nearly 20 years ago, promotes education through youth billiard programs, awards academic scholarships and produces the Junior National 9-Ball Championships. Smith agreed that the task of drawing youth to the pool table has become increasingly difficult in recent years.
"There are so few no-smoking, non-alcohol facilities anymore," she noted. "That's made it much more difficult on instructors and room owners who want to develop youth programs."
Smith pointed out that numerous room owners couldn't even host qualifiers for the Junior Nationals because of city ordinances prohibiting kids under 21 to enter the poolrooms. In recent years, participation at the Junior Nats has dropped from 140 to 100.
And, truthfully, are many room owners or instructors even making the effort to get more young players involved in the sport? Considering that pool itself is a relatively minor financial contributor to some rooms, I can't believe a ton of effort is being made.
That's the mentality that the industry needs to try to change.
We can start by pointing to the success of instructors like Earl Munson. For nearly 10 years, Munson has run an after-school program in Richardson, Texas, that now includes 15 high schools playing both boys and girls competition. He runs his program in the billiard area of a local bowling center. High school programs have also started in Albuquerque and Massachusetts, where several schools have tables in the school building.
Of course, Munson's program took time. It took time and effort to get principals to listen and to establish a trust factor with both the high schools and the students' parents.
Munson even produced a curriculum guide and instructor's manual to help others do the same. It's available through the BEF website: billiardeducation.org.
For our youth's sake, check it out.