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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.

June: The Power of Enthusiasm
June 2017

April Larson’s infectious personality is perhaps the worst kept secret in pool. You can usually tell when she’s simply been out of the house, because the number of “Followers” and “Friends” on her Facebook page seems to grow exponentially. At 17, the Jefferson High School (Bloomington, Minn.) junior is a phenomenon.

How does someone so young manage to make her contemporaries and adults fawn over her and unabashedly profess membership in her fan club?

Easy. She’s real. She’s genuine. She’s humble. And from her thick, uncontrollably curly head of hair to her black horn-rimmed glasses and, until only recently, the mouthful of braces she never tried to hide behind that engaging smile, she’s just plain adorable.

I am 59 and not in the least bit embarrassed to admit that I, too, fell into the April Larson trance several years ago. I met her at the annual Billiard Education Foundation Junior National 9-Ball Championships, at which she was collecting the third of her five consecutive Junior Nationals titles. At the table, she was serious but courteous, competitive but respectful. Away from the table, she was engaging and thoughtful. I had never before been thanked for simply asking a question, so, of course, I was impressed by her obvious respect for members of the Fourth Estate.

Since then she has gone on to capture two more BEF national titles, was a member of Team USA in the first two Atlantic Challenge Cup junior team competitions (and MVP in 2015), finished tied for third at the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Masters tournament in February, and has amassed more than 4,500 “friends” on social media — which is only 4,450 more than I have lured to my page in the past five years!

(Okay, this is random, but here is my favorite April Larson story. I was in the midst of editing Keith Paradise’s feature on April for this issue and I needed a few bits of information from April. It was relatively early on a weekday morning and I sent her a message on Facebook — because, as I’ve stated before, that’s the easiest and fastest way to reach a pool player! For the uninitiated, Facebook Message alerts you as to the time someone views your message. It was not until after 5:00 p.m. that my message was seen. Do you understand the meaning of that? Can you fully appreciate the significance? It was a school day and a 17-year-old high school student did not check Facebook during the entire day! I had tears in my eyes. There is hope for the world after all!)

Back to the purpose of this column: The future of pool in America will be determined, in large part, by the industry’s ability to get young kids engaged in the sport. We need to create opportunity and we need to teach. It is really that simple. Blocking and tackling, as those who like sports metaphors are wont to say.

But it also helps to have young players who we can hold up as examples — role models that will help influence others to take up the game. April Larson isn’t the only junior player with admirable qualities, but she is a great example. Kids like April are just that — kids — but don’t discount their ability to influence other kids by making the sport look fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding. And even if kids like April aren’t converting every junior into pool players, there’s benefit in just being someone that others simply admire.

To their credit, industry leaders have recognized the importance of developing a strong youth program. The ACC is a step in the right direction. It gives junior players something to aspire to, a goal. Junior programs are popping up all over the country, as evidenced by the massive growth in the BEF Junior Nationals over the past three years. College scholarships available through the BEF continue to grow, and at least one college pool program — the Lindenwood (Mo.) University billiard program, started by Mark Wilson — offers kids the opportunity to leverage their ability at the table against a college education.

At some point, however, the industry is going to have to figure out how to create opportunities for these kids after they no longer fall into the “junior” category. My biggest fear is watching a talented young player like April, whose love for the game is unmistakable and contagious, disappear from our radar after college because there is no place for her to play. There are plenty of tournaments for men, but nothing that resembles a tour. And opportunities for women at the highest levels of play are borderline extinct. My hope is that the strength of great junior programs creates such growth in the number of aspiring players that tours and tournaments become a natural extension of that growth. If there is a demand, there will be supply, right? Lots of work ahead of us, though, for sure. But kids like April Larson certainly make it worth figuring out the answers.