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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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November: One Hall of a Gathering
November 2017

The best night of the year is just around the corner.

The annual Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame Banquet has always been special to me. It has been presented in a myriad of venues and formats. But it is always a celebration that puts the history and greatness of the sport in context.

It has also served to tie together the years of covering the sport.

Mike Shamos’ fantastic “Chronicles” column in the October issue offered a comprehensive history of the BCA Hall of Fame — the honorees, the selection process and various statistics. Terrific stuff. But, for me, it was award ceremonies themselves that left such an indelible impression on me.

In the early years of the Hall of Fame, honorees were awarded their plaques with little fanfare. There were a few luncheons to fete the inductees. The first induction I attended was Steve Mizerak’s in 1980. It was a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception held during the BCA National 8-Ball Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The BCA had precious little in its coffers in those days.

Thankfully, the Miller Brewing Co., which had Mizerak on staff as a Lite Beer All Star, sponsored the reception. It consisted of shrimp, Lite Beer, a quick plaque hand-off and an even quicker speech by Mizerak.

Likewise, Dorothy Wise, the first woman inductee, received her plaque during a small ceremony at the Hacienda Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the 1981 BCA Nationals. The same for Joe Balsis and Luther Lassiter in ’82 and ’83, Lassiter’s coming in Detroit.

The BCA Hall of Fame Banquet became a true VIP, speech-giving, plated dinner ceremony in 1984, when the first BCA Trade Show was held in Fort Worth, Texas. The inductee was none other than Minnesota Fats. It was a magnificent affair at the toney Petroleum Club. If memory serves, some 400 industry big shots and fans attended. Author Mickey Spillane was there. If not for emcee Mike Geiger’s diplomatic hook, Fats might still be talking.

From that point on, I was the one that was hooked! The banquet was always the annual trade show’s culminating event, and everyone was there decked out to the nines. That’s when the exhibitors were died-in-the-wool billiard fans. Jean Balukas, Mike Sigel, Nick Varner and Eddie Taylor were just a few of the honorees that followed. Poor Varner had to endure a coma-inducing “keynote” speech by trick shot expert Paul Gerni before getting his turn at the podium. And each year, the BCA footed the bill to bring all of the living Hall of Famers in for the banquet, adding to the grandeur. It was a night with celebrities.

Earl Strickland, who inexplicably had to wait until 2006 to be inducted, was hilarious at what was the last big BCA-funded bash before the economy crashed and the association had to pull in its reins. The next three years were trimmed-down affairs, with Pat Fleming receiving his green jacket next to a pool table in 2008.

Thanks to a relationship forged between the BCA and the United States Billiard Media Association, the induction returned to full dinner format in 2009 and has been back to its terrific old self since.

This year, the inductions of Darren Appleton and Tom Rossman will take place Monday, Dec. 4, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. (Tickets available at www.USBMA.com.)

And this year will be extra special. Thanks to incredible support from the billiard industry, all of the living Hall of Famers have once again been invited to take part in the event. Balukas, Sigel, Varner and Fleming will be there, as will Jimmy Rempe, Ewa Laurance, Eddie Kelly, Danny DiLiberto, Loree Jon Hasson, Robin Dodson, Mike Massey and more.

The annual Hall of Fame Banquet is the sport and industry’s opportunity to treat its heroes like...well, like heroes. They deserve those nights. Pool is not a sport that takes care of its own, which is a shame. But at least the annual banquet lets the stars know they have not been forgotten.


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