Published: January 03, 2006 05:44 pm

Shuffleboard finds new life

Avon Waters

SUMMITVILLE — Blaine Yeagy, 63, remembers when a dime would buy a game of shuffleboard.

Now it costs a dollar. But Yeagy is 40 years older now, too. Even bread cost more and no one can buy a cup of coffee for a dime anymore. The object of the game is simple, he said.

“Get more points than the other guy,” Yeagy said. “The only way to learn the game is get in there and shoot. Someone can show you, give you hints, but you’ve got to get in there and do it.”

He plays regularly at GI’s Old Town Tavern since owner Glen Ingram of Muncie bought the Summitville bar in February 2005. Shuffleboard is serious business, Ingram said. There are amateurs and professionals. One reason people don’t realize there are tournaments every weekend in Indiana or the nation, is that there are no sponsors for the sport like there are for bowling or other sports. Indiana ranks third or fourth in the nation for players and tournaments. Texas ranks first.

“The players are lawyers, doctors, engineers, and everyday people,” Ingram said.

He bought the bar to have a place to promote shuffleboard and grow the interest in it, he said. Ingram began playing in 1991 and is the past winner of three national championships and state titles too. A wall next to the bar is filled to the ceiling with the plaques he’s won over the years. He points to a plaque from the 2000 Holiday Tournament in Houston, Texas where he won $15,000.

“I want to start a women’s league, a powder puff league,” Ingram said. “I’ve developed five or six women but would like to see more women get involved in the game. There’s some great women players in the state, just not very many women playing.”

Women or men can come in and learn to play by watching or working with other players, he said. Serious players eventually buy their own weights, but the bar has house weights for each of its three tables. For free, people can come in and practice sliding the weights down the long board that looks like a bowling alley lane, complete with gutters on each side and the end. Or for a dollar they can play a game. The first person to 15 points wins.

“What’s great about shuffleboard is that you can do it no matter how old you are,” Ingram said. “I’ve played with guys in their 90s.”

Yeagy put one of the shiny metal weights under his thumb, his hand glided back and forth along the edge of the wooden board. The weight slid easily under the light pressure of his thumb. Riding on a special wax coating of ground pecan shells it seemed to move effortlessly.

“A lot of people will mistake this for sand,” Ingram said of the wax. “It’s white when it’s new but turns brown as it is used up.”

He released the weight and it glided toward the end of the board, stopping just short of the end of the board. Numbers at various lines determine how many points the throw will be.

An opponent could choose to try and knock his weight off, or place the next weight in another scoring position beyond the one Ingram just threw.

“It’s a game of strategy and skill,” Ingram said.

Players can also hook their shot around another weight, placing it in scoring position and usurping the opponent's weight that would have otherwise scored.

Ingram continues to promote the game, saying that he now spends most of his time setting up tournaments rather than playing. He wants to host more amateur tournaments and pro-am tournaments to encourage younger, unranked players.

“If you are an amateur, you about have to play in a pro tournament. The amateurs are busting their heads against the wall playing against professionals,” Ingram said. “I want to change that. How many times is someone going to pay a tournament fee and come away with nothing before they give up.”

Professional tournaments can cost about $100 to enter, but amateur tournaments can be as little as $10 to $25. There’s a group that plays on Mondays that throw in $10 just for bragging rights for the week, Ingram said.

With the pro-am tournaments, amateurs have a chance to learn while still getting the opportunity to win some money, he added.

“They call it paying your dues,” said Gene Brown, 36, Summitville.

Brown estimates he puts in 15 to 20 hours of practice each week. He started playing seven months ago and fell in love with the game. He’s attended a few tournaments.

“I eventually want to turn pro,” Brown said. “I’ve not fared too well yet. But you meet a lot of good people and it’s real competitive, I like that. You got to beat the pros to become a pro.”

This article © The Herald Bulletin - Anderson, Indiana
Posted with permission