I caught up with New England 9 Ball Series tournament director Marc Dionne at the 10th annual memorial tournament for his father Robert Dionne. The tournament serves as a fundraiser for the March of Dimes, a cause that was very dear to his father’s heart. His father always called Marc his miracle baby because the doctors predicted he wouldn’t live. Marc was born premature, weighing only 2 pounds, with the cord wrapped around his neck. Lack of oxygen during delivery left him with mild brain damage and cerebral palsy. Despite these handicaps Marc has been successfully running the New England 9 Ball Series for the past 10 years. I joined his staff about two years ago.
SPM: What made you want to start the New England 9 Ball Series back in 2006? Marc: I love pool and I wanted players to have a place to play. SPM: Originally the format was unhandicapped races to 7 with sliding entry fees based on skill level. What made you decide to change the tour format to handicapped? Marc: I thought pool was on a downward spiral and the turnouts weren’t as big as I would like. I noticed there were a lot of C and B level players playing in the amateur pool leagues and I wanted to have a format that would attract more of them to come out and play. SPM: How many players are on your tour this season and how many of them are B and C level players? Marc: So far this season we have about 375 players on the tour. I’d say that more than 90% of them are C or B level. SPM: What kind of events do you have and what areas do you cover? Marc: Other than 9 Ball we do two partners events, one or two 8 ball events, and a few one pocket events each season. We have events in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Next year we will have at least one in Vermont. SPM: How big would you like the tour to get? Marc: I don’t know how big I want it to get. I just want it to be a successful tour that people enjoy coming to. SPM: I handle most of the database work for the tour. Who else is on your staff and what are some of the other things the staff do? Marc: Jenn Berghelli does the website, flyers, forms, a lot of behind the scenes stuff, and helps run some events. We have a handicap review committee that meets about once per month to review skill levels. I oversee everything, talk to venues, do a lot of footwork, and secure sponsors. SPM: Please tell us about your sponsors and what they contribute to the tour. Marc: Our main sponsor is Ozone Billiards. They contribute $200 per month in gift cards that I give to room owners who in turn add cash to the money added events. Molinari gives gloves and a package of accessories that we can raffle off. John Palmer designed a device called Otlvise to move pool table slates. He contributes $250 to the tour to use for trophies. Bert Kinister donates videos for us to raffle. Delta 13 gives me a discounted rate on racks for the pool rooms. SPM: What are your biggest challenges in running the tour and how do you cope with them? Marc: Dealing with player complaints is the worst part. Players complain about handicaps, money taken out for fees, and the races. I try to take people’s advice into consideration and ask other players for their opinions. People need to understand that this tour is designed for C and B players. Higher and lower ranked players are welcome but I need to make sure the C and B players are happy. They also need to understand that we don’t have unlimited tables and time to run an event so we sometimes have to have shorter races than what we would like. SPM: What do you find most rewarding? Marc: When I see people come to a tournament and they are smiling and happy and say thank you. I also like seeing players improve. A lot of players are improving. SPM: Do you have any advice for someone else thinking of starting a pool tour? Marc: Have an open mind and thick skin and be gracious toward the pool players. Remember that we are in the customer service industry. We need to produce a product people want to buy, not have the attitud