On February 16, 1978, Ivan Novkovic entered the world with Spina Bifida and has been in a wheelchair ever since.
Born in Paracin, Serbia, after several years his family moved to a bigger town, Nis, in southeastern Serbia. In 1991, at the age of 12, he played his first game of pool. From that moment on, pool became inseparable from his life. Now he is one of the best Serbian wheelchair pool players, a national champion and has attended several European Championships.
I found Ivan in his local Nis pool club, Atlantis, playing some 9-ball. By the sound of the balls falling in the pockets, he just completed a stroke. Ivan interrupted his practice and to talk with me for Sneaky Pete Mafia.
BV: Can you describe your first encounter with the pool?
IN: My first encounter with billiards occurred when I was twelve years old, when I played a game with friends from middle school. Ever since, I have been tempted by this sport’s long games. Given that the pool has continued to be a very important part of my life in the last 22 years, my early interest was not just a child’s enthusiasm. I played pool every day for the first two years (at the ages of 12 and 13).
I had believed that it was impossible to hit a ball with a cue from in a wheelchair. I have spent many days in finding ways to achieve this, and discovered some fun positions just for kicks. Eventually, positioning myself at a billiards table became a routine. I have learned the proper ratio of my body, a table, and a cue, and am trying to learn and use best practices in this field and, at the same, listen to coaches that work with me.
BV: How did you learn information about the wheelchair billiard tournaments, including the world championship?
IN: As a teenager, I had a strong desire to accomplish something big and prove myself within our society, so I chose pool as a vehicle to do that. I have found a great deal of information about billiards on the internet. Much of this information came from the United States and European websites. Based on this information, in 2002, my colleagues and I established the Serbian Wheelchair Billiards League, which is supported by the Serbian Billiards Federation. This task was not too difficult for me given that I have been an activist for people with disabilities since 1998. I am proud of taking part in establishing the Serbian Wheelchair Billiards League because this accomplishment is not only very important to people with disabilities, but also to the entire Serbian society and the issues of inclusion and tolerance.
BV: How long did it take before your first success?
IN: I have to say that I believe that my biggest success is the ability to work with people and make the wheelchair billiard in Serbia possible and thriving, as well as the ability to motivate players to play this sport. In 2010, I was the Serbian Wheelchair Billiards Champion in 8-ball and 9-ball. I participated in several European Championships: Liberec, Czech Republic in 2007; Willingen, Germany in 2008; and Brandenburg, Germany in 2011.
Since billiards is not an Olympic sport, it isn’t treated well by the government institutions in Serbia. One that chooses to play this sport should not expect support and/or scholarship like the athletes playing Olympic sports get. Because of lack of support and given that athletes with disabilities mostly opt for Olympic sports, it is very difficult to maintain the wheelchair billiards in Serbia. It isn’t easy to attract sponsors, providing support for billiard competitions. Even though we have some very talented players, there is a very limited number of interested sponsors.
Fortunately, our participation in the European Championship enabled us to gain knowledge from the best players and to learn how they achieved a high level of success in a number of competitions in their countries. In the last 12 years, I have worked very hard to promote the sport of billiards to wheelchair users and its role in inclusion for people with disabilities. In December of 2013, I wrote a column titled Billiards in Service of Inclusion, which was published on my blog, www.billiardpoolivan.com.
BV: Will you be able to continue to equally participate in the development of billiards in Serbia and at the same time improve the quality of your play?
IN: I am glad to answer this question. I cannot separate these two activities. I would not have achieved the results as a player if the Serbian Wheelchair League were not established. Also, I cannot improve the quality of my skills without the improvement of billiard skills of every player in the Serbian Billiards League. All our players work together to advance our league as much as we can. Strengthening our competitive skills increases motivation for better training and better results. This is our essential guide.
BV: Why did you create the blog about billiards, which is one more responsibility in addition to many others?
IN: In 2009, I started working with other billiard groups in the City of Nis. My colleagues and I established the first professional billiard club in the city. I was appointed a president of our club and it took us four years to achieve some great things that helped developing billiards in our region. In 2013, a colleague of mine became a president of the club, which opened more time for me to realize my new ideas. My first task was to write a blog with the aim to promote billiard activity from all over the world and exchange of experiences. The blog has been around for only a month; although the blog still does not have enough content, it has already sparked the interest of players from about thirty countries around the world. My expectations are that the blog will soon achieve the wished popularity in the world and at the same time accomplish the goals because of which it exists.
I am hitting the road and leaving Ivan to continue his training and to follow his dream to become the best pool player and to promote pool in service of inclusion.
Best regards from Serbia!
Boris Vidakovic was born in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia. By profession, he is a medical doctor, but pool is his biggest love. Officially, he has been competing since 1996, and has worn jerseys of many of the first league clubs in the Serbian Pool Association. He founded his own club, BK «Lucky Ball». A licensed pool coach and PAT examiner since 2009, he has had the privilege to train many people, such as Vojislav Krstic and Luka Bulatovic, both who were junior champions of Serbia, as well as female champion of Serbia, Dunja Vujanic.
Editor: Marcee Murray King Photo Courtesy of Author