Pockets of fun

By Tova Fruchtman, CNJ staff writer

Playing pool can be an entertaining way to spend down time.

Jerry Judah and about seven other men play pool from noon until 5 p.m. daily at the Baxter-Curren Senior Center in Clovis.

Mostly retired or disabled, the men play partners to raise their spirits and kill time, Judah said.

“A lot of these men, their wives are gone. We’ve had several men come in and they’ve been real sick … It’s really helped them out a whole lot,” said Judah, 65, who said learning to play pool seven years ago was easy.

“If they were sitting at home they’d be arguing with themselves and looking at four walls.”

Nationwide, billiards steadily increased in popularity from 1999 through 2001, according to the most recent statistics from the Billiard and Bowling Institute of America. During that time, statistics show popularity grew by 8.4 percent among females and 17 percent among players between the ages of 12 and 17.

Sid Turner, commander at Veterans of Foreign Wars No. 3280 in Clovis, is in charge of the inter-club pool league where more than 100 members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the VFW and the American Legion compete Monday nights from September through April. His wife Loretta is the secretary of the league, and also plays.

Though not everyone can join the clubs in their league, Turner said anyone can play pool.

“Some of these pool players are 80 years old,” said Turner, who has been involved in the league for 14 years and played pool for more than 30.

John “C.J.” Armstrong, 28, of Clovis became a Billiards Congress of America certified instructor after spending a week at Cue-Tech Pool School in Dallas this summer.

Armstrong, who began shooting pool at 12, took some time on Tuesday to share some tips to CNJ readers who want to start playing pool:

1. Pick a good cue stick. Look on the bottom of the cue stick for its weight — 18 ounces is a good weight for an average adult. Roll the cue stick across the pool table to make sure it’s not warped. A good one will roll smoothly.

2. Grip the cue stick loosely. The grip is the hand that holds the back of the cue stick. “Some people think the tighter they hold it the harder they hit.” Hitting a cue ball is about speed not strength, and a tight grip slows down the stroke.

3. Use your front hand as a bridge.
Your hand rests on the pool table, and guides your shot.

4. Have a balanced stance, which is comfortable and allows for little or no movement. All that needs to move for a successful pool shot are triceps and biceps, the muscles just above the elbow.

5. Use a stable stroke that moves the cue stick in a straight line toward the ball. Take aim at the ball you want to shoot as if you were hitting it on its own. This will help you visualize your shot.

6. Use the same “set” position for each shot. The “set” position gives players a moment to check if they are comfortable, the cue stick is positioned correctly, and the aim is correct.

7. Pause before you hit the ball. After you bring your arm back, pause for a split second. Moving your arm back does not affect your stroke. Pausing will allow the forward motion of the stroke to have more control.

8. Finish the stroke with the proper follow through. “You never want the tip of your cue to be up in the air … (it) should be 4 to 6 inches past where the cue ball was and level with the table or pointed down in the same direction you aimed.”

9. Freeze after each shot and evaluate your stroke. Make sure your grip, stance and aim are still the same. “Pool is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical.”

“It’s not that hard to learn if you want to learn,” he added. The dedication of getting better is the hard part.”