This isn't Paul Newman teaching Tom Cruise how to hustle. This isn't "show me the money" pool sharks.
This is pool - friends and family style. And it's happening everywhere in every state.
Playing by the rules
Journalists play pool, computer-jockeys play pool, real estate agents play pool. Carpenters, teachers, engineers and nurses all pick up slender, 57-inch-long tapered sticks called cues, lean over seven- to nine-foot-long felt-covered, slate-topped tables, and hit the sole white cue ball with enough precision to knock a colored ball into one of six holes called pockets on the perimeter of the table.
Locally, many of the players are members of APA, founded by professional pool players in 1979 as the National Pool League. The organization's Web site boasts a membership of more than 185,000 players. Members play on teams, by a strict set of rules, with a high level of sportsmanship, says Linda Worrell of Sharpsburg.
"Everyone has a common interest and is playing for a common good," she adds.
Twenty-seven teams, each with five to eight members, rack up the striped and solid balls and shoot 8- or 9-ball pool three nights a week at Hagerstown Billiards.
In 9-ball, you shoot the balls in numerical order. In 8-ball, you shoot either striped or solid-colored balls into the pockets and then drop the black 8-ball in a pocket before your opponent does. Dunk that 8-ball too soon and you lose.
There are rules for everything - how you rack 'em (putting nine or 15 colored balls in a triangular wooden frame on the table), how you break 'em, and what constitutes a legal shot.
And there's strategy. But that comes with experience.
Anyone can play
Each of the local APA teams has an average of three family members, says Gary Carbaugh Sr. of Hagerstown. He's on a team with his sons, Jason and Gary Carbaugh, co-owners of Hagerstown Billiards and Cafe.
Alexander N. Henson of Hagerstown also is on Carbaugh's team. "Pap," as Henson is known to everyone, started playing pool at the age of 14 at South Potomac Street Billiards. Skinny Elgin ran the pool hall, he recalls.
Henson played until he was 20, when he got married. "That stopped it right there for a while," he laughs.
Henson is now retired from Fairchild, where he worked for 27 years. His wife died nine years ago. He started coming to Hagerstown Billiards when it opened three and a half years ago, and he's been there a couple of times a week ever since.
Henson's team recently qualified for league playoffs in Baltimore. If his team wins there, he'll have a shot at the nationals in Las Vegas.
"I have never been there," he says. He'd like to go.
Henson has an APA rating of 4 for 8-ball play. The skill level for 8-ball ranges from 2 to 7 and from 1 to 9 for 9-ball.
"Anyone can play pool," says Worrell, who's captain of the "No Excuses" team that plays at Hagerstown Billiards and Cafe.
League play is handicapped. "The handicap system works to equalize the play," says Worrell. Players score different ratings, and teams are made up of players with different skill levels. Teams have a total skill level of 23 for five players, Worrell says.
Worrell, 52, has been playing for eight years.
When she looks for teammates, Worrell says she looks for people who have good intentions. Although she wants to have fun playing pool, Worrel doesn't want to be frivolous.
"What I so love about this sport is that everyone can have the thrill of competition," she says. Men and women are on equal footing. You can play in any kind of weather, any time of day, Worrell says.
The game of pool is a nice melting pot, Worrel says. A quality control mix chemist at a local manufacturer, she has played with people from varied walks of life - an engineer, a certified public accountant, two nurses, a carpenter, a school teacher.
"Nobody knows, nobody cares. You just enjoy the people and the sport that you're playing," she says.
Gale Cook of Middletown, Md., agrees.
"When you walk through the door, you're a pool player," he says.
He's played pool since he was 12. "Pool is just fun to play," he says. But he also enjoys the strategic aspects of the game. He compares it to playing chess.
"This is the ultimate in individual and team competition," Worrell says. "Success or failure might rest on a fraction of an inch."
That fraction of an inch determines whether the right ball goes in the hole, or not.
Debbie Cook, Gale Cook's wife, has been playing pool for about seven years.