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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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December: The Matchmaker
December 2018

Press time was interrupted by the sad news that Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer Charlie Ursitti had passed away in Florida. He was 71.

It tends to hit me harder when the industry loses people that I consider part of the group that welcomed me into their world in the early ’80s. Their kindness, generosity and enthusiasm were acts that pulled me into that world and convinced me that wandering off for other publishing opportunities in other industries wasn’t necessary. I could remain happy right here.

Charlie Ursitti was one of those people.

I’m sure being Italian had at least something to do with it, but Charlie took me under his wing at my very first big professional event, the 1981 Professional Pool Players Association World 14.1 Championships in New York City. Charlie knew everybody. And everybody knew Charlie. He was congenial. He was smart. And he had an eye for opportunity and loved a challenge. The contributions to billiards that led to his Hall of Fame induction were the products of that eye for opportunity.

At Ursitti’s Hall of Fame induction in 2015 — a day he later referred to as the best day of his life — I mentioned how few people in today’s billiard world were familiar with Charlie Ursitti. It was a shame, and we in the media are at least partially to blame for not making a bigger fuss over his contributions.

But the truth is, virtually every pool fan and player knew Ursitti. Maybe not by name, but certainly by his contributions. If you’d ever heard about the famous Willie Mosconi vs Minnesota Fats match in 1978, televised by ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports,” an event that is still the single-most watched pool match in American history, you knew Ursitti. If you recalled Steve Mizerak and Allen Hopkins teaming with Fats and Mosconi for matches on CBS-TV’s “Sports Spectacular,” you knew Ursitti. And if you were privileged enough to witness ESPN’s coverage of the “Legendary Pocket Billiards Stars” tournament — which put Fats, Mosconi, Jimmy Caras, Irving Crane, Luther Lassiter, Jimmy Moore and U.J. Puckett at the same table — you knew Ursitti.

Uristti found ways to connect pool and network television, which, to that point, had been limited to backroom looks at the Hustler’s All-Around Championships from Johnston City, Ill. Ursitti made that connection through a boxing films collector named Bill Cayton, whose Big Fights, Inc., brought pool into living rooms across the country with fair regularity.

But Ursitti’s contributions to pool went far beyond televised events. Ursitti was undoubtedly the professional game’s premier historian. From the moment legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell demanded statistical information ahead of that first Fats-Mosconi tilt, Ursitti hurled himself headlong into researching professional pool matches and tournaments. And once he started, he couldn’t stop. Back when people still researched by sitting in libraries and sorting through rolls and rolls of microfilmed copies of old newspapers, Ursitti delved into the game’s history as far back as the late 1800s.

His websites make all of that research readily available today, assuring that his contributions will last forever.

Ursitti’s 2015 election into the BCA Hall of Fame was one of my favorite Hall of Fame moments for several reasons. First, it validated the importance of the BCA Hall of Fame and the people that participate in the elections. It’s easy to make sure the Mike Sigels, Jean Balukases and Earl Stricklands get their green jackets. But it is so important to make sure that people like Charlie Ursitti — not known by many and forgotten by more than a few — don’t get left out because they didn’t run racks and win titles. Ursitti’s imprint on billiards is indelible. And now his name is as well.

More than anything, of course, Ursitti’s election was personally satisfying because he had been such a great friend for so many years. There are few people who have Charlie’s passion and love for the sport. He was a virtual family member in the Mosconi and Ogonowski (Loree Jon Hasson’s family) households.

Ursitti’s induction, and now his passing, has made me think about others whose contributions are largely overlooked or forgotten. One name that keeps popping up in my head is Jorgen Sandman. I would guess that no one that has been in billiards for less than 25 years knows who Sandman is either.

In my book, Sandman is the man primarily responsible for making pool the international sport it is today. The Swede, you see, was one of the founders and the key drivers in the formation of the World Pool-Billiard Association.

I’m not talking about today’s dysfunctional WPA. I’m talking about the importance of an organization that connects federations from around the world and attempts to grow the game. It’s important because governments around the world would not support a national federation without attachment to a global organization.

We need a WPA, and Jorgen Sandman made that happen in the late 1980s. He is the one who, largely on his own dime, traveled the world to set up a global group. And because of that effort, the world became a smaller place and the sport has benefitted from the proliferation of international tournaments and international stars.

I just think the person who selflessly led that charge deserves the same jacket that my friend Charlie received.

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