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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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February: A Decade Rushes By
February 2020

At my age, writing certain sentences literally makes me wince and cringe. For instance, “Gee, that decade sure flew by!”

And so, we say goodbye to the 2010s/Teens/’10s — whatever you’re supposed to call them. Seems like only yesterday we were discussing canned goods hoarding and underground bunker sales in advance of the worldwide calamity that Y2K was supposed to cause.

The 2010s was an interesting decade in the billiard world. The start of the decade found the industry still trying to rebound from the recession of the late 2000s. All business facets of billiards — tournaments, sponsors, manufacturers, retail stores, poolrooms, etc. — were in scramble mode, trying not only to reinvent themselves to remain relevant, but to survive.

The good news is that, by the middle of the decade, the industry seemed to find its footing and actually show some modest growth in many areas. On the professional player front, tournaments for both the men and women bottomed out mid-decade, but recent years have seen upticks in decent-sized events in the U.S. The additions of the International 9-Ball Open and the World 10-Ball Championship have been especially encouraging.

Of course, the decade had highlights and lowlights. Here are mine:

Highlights

My No. 1 highlight of the decade is a toss-up between John Schmidt’s 626-ball straight pool run and the 2018 Mosconi Cup in London. Odd that both happened at the tail end of the decade, but they were moments that would have made my Top Five of the Century, if I lived long enough to contemplate such a list.

For me, the significance of Schmidt’s record-breaking run itself is secondary to the personal journey that went into running 626 balls. And to understand that, you need to know and understand John Schmidt. Likeable, funny and self-deprecating (to a fault), Schmidt nearly drove himself mad chasing Willie Mosconi’s legendary mark of 526 consecutive balls. He spent years thinking about it, dreaming about it and gunning for it. Either he was going to break the record, or it was going to break him. And, while he certainly hoped that breaking the record would result in financial gain, the chase was for personal satisfaction far more than it was for monetary gain. Schmidt is a long-time pro player. He knows there is very little payoff in pool. But he charged ahead anyway and went all in during a fatiguing and often maddening 15-month series of attempts. I marvel at the single-mindedness and determination Schmidt showed over that period. And, as I’ve said before, I can’t even imagine how many times he wanted to break his cue or quit — or hurl himself off the Golden Gate Bridge — when a tantalizingly long run would come crashing to a halt.

I was happier for John Schmidt when he set his mark than I have been for any player winning any title. If the record was to be broken, it simply had to be by John. Another player could break Schmidt’s record tomorrow and it simply wouldn’t impact me the same way.

The 2018 Mosconi Cup was altogether different. I have had the privilege of sitting ringside for 20 versions of pool’s biggest pressure-cooker, but the 2018 Cup gave me goosebumps. There was so much going on that year in London. Concern over Team USA’s ineptitude, careful strategizing to revitalize the team, a jam-packed 2,000-seat arena in a historic site. The atmosphere was off the charts, Team USA showed incredible heart and the storyline was screenplay-worthy. With apologies to Team Europe, I still believe it was a seminal moment for pool.

Honorable Mention: The 2017 Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame Banquet, at which 22 Hall of Famers were assembled. The banter, camaraderie, reminiscing and unbridled joy on display as the Hall of Famers renewed acquaintences was one of the feel-good moments of the decade.

Also, the growth of organized junior play across the country is a great wave to ride into the coming decade.

Lowlights

Unfortunately, as is the case in every 10-year stretch, the pool world lost too many wonderful people. For Billiards Digest (and me, personally), losing both Robert Byrne and George Fels just three years apart was particularly painful. I am grateful and a far better person for having known them as friends and to have worked with them for more than 30 years. The same holds true for Barry Behrman, one of the game’s more colorful characters who enjoyed a remarkable 40-plus year run as a room owner and creator of the game’s most important major professional tournament. All three gentlemen left legacies that will endure far beyond our lifetimes. The same holds for Helena Thornfeldt, Eddie Kelly and Leonard Bludworth.

Now, bring on the 2020s!

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