Imagine a tournament that attracted the best players in the region, didn’t pay out any cash prizes, and wasn’t a qualifier for a larger event. Imagine pool players voluntarily opening their wallets and actively fundraising to help cancer patients. The New England Women’s Pool Alliance not only imagined it, they made it happen with their ‘Pool for Jimmy’ 32-team scotch doubles open 9-ball partner’s event. The event raised over $32,600 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, one of the world’s top cancer centers, located in Boston, MA.
‘Pool for Jimmy’ was held December 11, 2021 at Crow’s Nest Pub and Grill in Plaistow, NH. Beau Powers and Suad Kantarevik took first place, the runners-up were Mike Minichello and Rich Minichello Jr. and finishing third were Michelle Jiang and Tylor Brandom. Other notable players included Ryan Lineham, Erica Testa, Stacie Bourbeau, Joe Dupuis, who recently defeated Jayson Shaw at the NBL10-Ball Championship, and Japanese pro Masanori Morita.
The New England Women’s Pool Alliance is a nonprofit founded in 2021 by two New England Pool and Billiards Hall of Fame members Samantha Barrett and Catherine Fiorilla. Their mission is to create networking and mentorship opportunities for women who share a common interest in pool. Some of their other events include a women’s team event called ‘The Anchorperson Challenge’ and a women’s singles event called ‘Break the Cycle: A Domestic Violence Awareness Event.’ We spoke with the founders about their organization and the ‘Pool for Jimmy’ event.
How did the two of you decide to team up to form this organization?
We have casually known each other for many years. Last spring we competed together in a women’s team event and then joined a pool league team composed almost entirely of women. Hardly anyone had been playing pool in the year prior to that due to COVID-19 restrictions, which were particular strict in our area, and people were so happy to be out playing pool and having social contact. It was an encouraging and supportive environment. Our team won first place that session. It was so nice to go to league every week and be in an atmosphere of strong women that empowered each other, and we wanted to create similar experiences for other women.
Why didn’t you start a women’s pool tour?
“I definitively did not want to run any kind of pool tour,” said Fiorilla. “I wanted the players to feel free to attend any event and not have to make a commitment of paying a yearly membership fee. There are already other tours in the area and there is a limited population of female pool players that want to play in them. To be successful in this space we need to offer something more than a tour. I also thought about all the aspects of pool tournaments that I didn’t like (no time to socialize or eat, events running late into the night, etc.) and how those aspects could be improved. I don’t accept that argument that these are the nature of the beast and that’s how tournaments have always been run and players just have to deal with it. I envisioned that we could run some specialty tournaments and have other types of social events that could encourage the women to network and get mentorship.”
How do the networking and mentorship aspects work?
“For the moment we try to create environments at our events that are conducive to the players having meaningful interactions with each other. For example, we might have a table of light refreshments set up that offer a location for players to congregate at between matches. We might schedule a short break in the tournament to allow all the players to have lunch together,” said Barrett.
Fiorilla added, “When players arrive to the event, we make sure that each one is greeted and introduced to the other players. I understand that it can be difficult for some people to walk into a room full of people they don’t know. If there are no open tables players who aren’t especially extroverted may not even get any practice time. As the event organizers, we will know most of the people there and it is relatively easy for us to introduce a new player to other players to form these connections. Usually tournament directors are busy preparing for their events and overlook this detail but I think it is very important that everyone walking into one of our events should feel welcome and included.”
Barrett followed up, “At some point, we hope to have more formal networking and mentorship programs in place.”
What do you think is the main strength of the Alliance?
Recognizing that one person can’t do everything is very important. We know many people in pool world and everyone has their own areas of expertise. When you combine the right people with complementary skill sets together their results aren’t added, they are multiplied. Why did you go through the trouble to found a nonprofit?
We always wanted the Alliance to do some kind of community service. Pool doesn’t always have the greatest reputation but there are actually a lot of generous players and they are happy to support worthy causes. We felt that we could more effectively fundraise as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit. This gives individuals more confidence that their donations will go to people in need and would allow us to solicit donations from larger corporations.
Why specifically did you want to fundraise for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute?
We thought about which charities are the most impactful and trustworthy and Dana-Farber was at the top of the list. Eight-eight cents of every dollar donated to them goes to patient care and research. The name of their fundraising arm is the Jimmy Fund. Since 1948 millions of people have donated and it has so much respect in the community that is the official charity of the Boston Red Sox. Their main yearly fundraiser is the Jimmy Fund Walk, where participants raise money by walking along the Boston Marathon route. For the past two years, the Walk hasn’t been held in person due to Covid-19 restrictions in the city of Boston and as a result their donations have suffered. Although we knew we wouldn’t raise millions of dollars for them, their website is very clear about what the smaller donations can do for patients and cancer research. For example, $75 funds clinical programs for pediatric patients, $250 helps purchase lab equipment, $1500 funds lab research, and $5000 sequences a patient’s genome to guide precision treatment. Initially we thought we could set the fundraising goal at $10,000 and it was nice to have tangible results to picture with the donations. Having a patient’s genome screened makes a huge difference in the type of treatment they can receive. It means they can get a targeted therapy treatment specific to the genetic mutation they have that caused the cancer, which is more likely to work and less likely to cause debilitating side effects. It