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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.

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August: Battle Cry
August 2017

What? Over? Did you say, ‘Over?’ Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” Not sure exactly why, but John Belushi’s impassioned — albeit historically inaccurate — pep talk in the classic “Animal House” came to mind as I was watching the tail end of the Atlantic Challenge Cup from Klagenfurt, Austria last month. Team USA was left holding the wrong end of an 11-2 stick, marking the third year in three tries that Team Europe has won the junior team tournament.

To compound the problem, professional-level Team USA is currently riding a seven-year losing streak in the Mosconi Cup. And, aside from Shane Van Boening’s back-to-back runner-up finishes in the 2015 and 2016 World Pool-Billiard Association World 9-Ball Championship, U.S. players have barely made a showing in major international tournaments for nearly a decade.

But Belushi’s pro-America sentiment is the type of rally cry the American pool community needs to start turning the tide. Of course, the sizeable gap isn’t likely to be closed overnight. It will take time.

It will also take a sizeable commitment from both the players and the U.S. billiard industry.

I’ve written before about the need to establish and develop a Team USA system for billiards, something similar to what sports with ties to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) have. Neither the Billiard Congress of America nor the billiard industry as a whole has the resources to have a full-scale “USA Billiards” setup — a physical training facility, full-time coaches, etc. But I still believe the industry should make an effort to better prepare our players at the junior and pro levels for international competition.

The primary purpose of a BCA-overseen and branded Team USA would be to raise the visibility and success of the American billiard program. As it stands today, there is no “American billiard program.” Look all over Europe and Asia. Virtually every country in Europe has a government-run or government-subsidized program to develop players in every sport — including billiards. Most times the programs are run through subsidies to the national billiard federation. The programs include proper coaching and training. In some cases, they include stipends to players to attend tournaments, and bonuses for medal finishes.

Nothing like that exists in the U.S. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a modest plan to get the ball rolling. The BCA could establish a Team USA program. The BCA would select a half dozen junior players and a half dozen pros. How they select those players at the start would likely be fairly random and based on current points systems used for world rankings and/or Mosconi Cup rankings for the pros. For the juniors, take the current Atlantic Challenge Cup team. In future years there could be a more elaborate selection system, including perhaps team trials.

The BCA could select and hire a few Team USA coaches. These coaches would be paid to run two or three “training camps” a year at facilities like the one Mark Wilson built at Lindenwood University. Team USA would pay for the players to attend the camps. Ideally, Team USA would also pay for players to go to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World Championship events and other world events like the World Games. And in a perfect world, players who earn their way onto Team USA would get some annual stipend in addition to having their expenses covered.

Ambitious? No doubt. Unattainable? In the words of John Belushi, “Hell no!”

The blueprints are out there. Copy successful programs. There are a number of secondary sports in the U.S. who run programs like this — USA Bowling, USA Fencing, whatever. Copy from billiard-specific programs, like the ones new Team USA captain Johan Ruijsink runs in Holland and Russia. Investigate the program run in Taiwan. Focus on the things that we could incorporate into a program here in the U.S.

I believe the benefits would be plentiful. The obvious advantage at the youth level would be in giving the juniors something to aspire to. The trickle down would not only help participation, but would drive the players who truly want to be top players to work harder.

At the pro level, success breeds success. Teach American pros what it takes to win at the highest level. Stronger players will beget stronger players.

Who is going to pay for this? Fair question.

I’m guessing a modest start-up program would run the industry something in the neighborhood of $50K to $70K annually. My challenge to the BCA would be to solicit sponsorships (“Official Partners”) for Team USA and match the sponsors dollar for dollar.

Is the BCA willing to invest $25K to $35K? I would like to think so. The BCA isn’t flush with money, but it does have upwards of $1 million in its reserves. I understand the BCA has a fiduciary responsibility to its members to keep the association alive and sound. I also believe it has a responsibility to use some of that money to grow the sport. A program like this would have more impact than sinking $50,000 into a one-off pro tournament.

The BCA should lead the charge to develop a national team. It’s part of their mission. And it would be a lift for the sport.

Besides, it’s our game! Let’s at least make an effort to take it back.