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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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May: ‘We had a pact!’
May 2019

There is a Seinfeld episode (because people my age still reference the show on a daily basis) in which Jerry and George agree that it’s time to settle down and each insists that he is going to marry his current girlfriend. Of course, George gets engaged only to find out that Jerry and his girlfriend have broken up.

“We had a pact!” George screams incredulously, after realizing he has committed to marriage, while Jerry will still be unattached and independent.

While I will agree that an analogy here is a stretch, that’s kind of the way I felt last month when I received the news, on consecutive days, that two of my closest, longtime industry friends, Matchroom’s Luke Riches and the American Poolplayer Association’s Renee Lyle, were “retiring.”

It was a strange feeling, unlike any I had previously felt when players and industry friends had left pool. Surely, players have stopped playing, but few completely “retire” from the sport. And industry acquaintances have retired or have moved on to other jobs.

Why was this different?

I realized that not only were these two among my very best friends in pool, but they are my contemporaries. We’re roughly the same age. (Older people always refer to their younger friends as being “roughly” the same age.) And we have been together in this industry for more than a quarter century. We have, in a sense, grown up together in the billiard business. Together we’ve gone from being the young upstarts constantly questioning industry elders to being the industry elders, whose main value, apparently, is our “institutional knowledge.” And because people who get hooked into the billiard business tend to be in it for life, it never occurred to me that my friends would ever choose to not be at their desks when I felt like calling in to catch up, share gossip or actually talk business.

I’m pretty sure that rooted in my feelings of depression was also a fair amount of self-pity. I mean, I counted on Luke and Renee to be at certain events throughout the year. The knowledge that they would be around for conversation, dinner and, of course, cocktails, was comforting to me whenever I had to pack for an event. It gave me something to look forward to, something to be excited about.

And then, of course, there’s the part about them being in position to retire, while I sit here typing my four-hundredth column, all the while thinking, “The hell! I’m gonna be working until I’m 75!”

Of course, I won’t be the only person in pool that will greatly miss Luke and Renee. Anyone that has worked with, dealt with or even simply met either or both would likely agree that their departures will leave noticeable voids in pool. (See Wing Shots, pg. 12.)

While Barry Hearn is rightfully lauded as pool’s most benevolent benefactor, Luke has been Matchroom’s face in pool since the early ’90s. Talk to any pro player that has participated in a Matchroom-run event and he will tell you that Luke was “the guy.” Luke was the link between the players and the promoter. Players knew they could always count on three things with Luke: He would be fair. He would be honest. And he would listen. Luke oversaw more than 80 Matchroom-produced pool tournaments during his time there, and his even-keel personality and integrity are big reasons Matchroom enjoys the impeccable reputation it has today.

It was that personality, along with his sense of style, razor-sharp wit and love of fine dining and libations that made him an instant favorite. In industry discussions, I could always count on level-headed and well-thought-out input. And once we’d punched out during events, I could always count on great conversation and plenty of laughs.

As the head of day-to-day operations at amateur league behemoth APA, Renee helped the franchise-based business reach unprecedented heights in pool. And she accomplished that in large part because she is a true professional. Like Luke, Renee proved to be a great listener and a leader that knew how to educate and empower her staff. And as protective as she was about her company, she always found ways to support the sport and the industry.

Renee and I have been great friends for 30 years. She reminded me recently that I helped prepare her when she wanted to run for the Billiard Congress of America Board of Directors many, many years ago, and told her to not be surprised if she didn’t get elected on her first try. (That’s the type of supportive friend I am!) Of course, that only steeled her determination and she was elected on the first attempt. What I do remember is that hanging out with her at industry functions was always entertaining and enjoyable. We always managed to find some “us” time.

The main reason this industry tends to generate lifers is because of the people. The enjoyment and gratification of working and playing with the same people for decades is something to be cherished and something that people from other industries should envy. The sad part is that, because of the global nature of the billiard industry, few of your pool friends also live in your neighborhood. That you will rarely see them again is a real possibility.

In Renee and Luke, I have friendships that truly transcended our business relationships. And for that I feel incredibly fortunate and eternally grateful.

Still, “We had a pact!”