The future of every sport depends on the kids who play it. The reason soccer has finally gotten major recognition in the U.S., after long obscurity in spite of being the most popular sport in the world, is because the kids who were driven to afternoon and Saturday games by their soccer moms have now grown up. I remember playing soccer as a kid and being asked by my friends, “What’s soccer?” And then when I met people from other countries and told them I played soccer as a kid they’d ask, “What’s soccer?” and I’d have to explain that in the U.S. we have a completely different game that has usurped the moniker “football”. Unlike what Europeans call “the beautiful game” American football players hold the ball. With their hands. But that’s another story.
As a big fan of pool and billiards I’m really excited about the 2017 Atlantic Challenge Cup that’s going on in Klagenfurt, Austria, from July 5th through 8th, that’s sort of a junior version of the Mosconi Cup, with young players representing the United States and Europe facing off against each other. Pool and billiards have been in decline since, well, they’ve had their ups and downs, more downs than ups. The days when someone like someone like self-described “Billiard Bum” Dan McGorty could travel cross-country with no money in his pocket, hustling pool in every small town for just enough money for meals, are long gone. It’s hard to find a pool hall even in a large town now, and even when you do find one it’s likely to only have standard American pocket tables. Forget balkline or other kinds of tables. A woman I used to work with told me her husband, a professional drummer, regularly played snooker.
“Where does he go that’s got a snooker table?” I asked, intrigued because I love the game.
“Oh, he goes to John Prine’s house,” she replied breezily. Only in Nashville.
And I get it. Even a single pool table requires a lot of real estate. Soccer is popular because all it requires is a field and a ball. Or a slightly round object. Or at least something that can be kicked. It’s no accident that most professional pool players are the children of pool players. It’s an expensive hobby, and the shrinking number of pool halls makes it even more expensive, with players having to go as far as, well, Klagenfurt, Austria, for matches.
Sure, I’m rooting for Team U.S. and its members like April Larson, who’s such an exceptionally talented and dedicated player she’s already made the cover of Billiards Digest–and she’s still in high school, where she maintains a 4.0 GPA. But I’m also just glad there’s a new generation keeping what I call the other beautiful game alive.