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 was so motivating to think that our fundraiser could help not only save but improve the quality of life of two cancer patients. It’s a much different experience than donating to a charity that might do good work but the donor doesn’t really know what the money is being used for.
How did the fundraising aspect of the event work?
It was similar to the format of the Jimmy Fund Walk where teams of participants raise money on a fundraising page, except instead of the teams walking together they played in a partner’s 9-Ball tournament. Each team had a sponsor and a special fundraising page on the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund website. We gave small gifts to each team based on the amount they raised.
All of your other events were for women. Why did you decide to have male players in this event?
We wanted to be able to raise as much money as possible for Dana-Farber as possible as didn’t think it would be the best strategy to limit ourselves to only female players. We were also working with the other regional pool tours and didn’t want’ to exclude any of their players.
Your flyer gave special thanks to the Ship the Cash and New England 9 Ball Series tours. How did they contribute to this event?
Barret answered, “We understood that people had expertise in different areas that would be useful in making this event more impactful than what the two of us could do alone. Mike DeMarco of the Ship the Cash tour is a not only cancer survivor but also runs a successful tour and has a lot of experience with live steaming and commentary so he was an obvious choice to ask for input in planning the event and with the livestream.”
Fiorilla added, “I’m so grateful we had these meetings. Getting all the sponsors and convincing the teams to fundraise seemed impossible to me at the time. I didn’t think we would be able to manage something on that scale but everyone did such a great job recruiting teams, sponsors and other donors. I was so humbled and impressed “
Fiorilla continued, “I have worked with the New England 9 Ball Series for many years and Marc Dionne, the tour director, really wanted to help with the event. He donated the cues that we gave to the team that won the event and two entries to his Winter Classic tournament that we gave to the top fundraising team.
How did you decide who the players would be?
We had several criteria for picking players. This unhandicapped event was livestreamed so we tried to get players that spectators would want to watch either at the event or online. We wanted players from all areas of New England. We wanted to include people who had a personal connection to cancer, either by being a survivor or by having a close family member or friend touched by this terrible disease. Additionally, we hoped to get players we thought would make an effort to fundraise and would represent the event in a positive light.
Who were some of the participants with a personal connection to cancer?
Jay Duffin of Narragansett, RI, who competed on a team with Ryan Lineham (sponsored by Checkered Flag Landscaping in Coventry, RI) is a cancer survivor of six years. “As a survivor it was great to be included in this event and try to give back to help others,” said Duffin.
The runner-up team composed of brothers Michael and Rich Minichello of Everett, MA (sponsored by Amazin Billiards in Malden, MA) recently lost their father, Rich Minichello Sr. “As you all know we lost our father due to cancer. We saw first-hand how nasty and quick it can attack you and take you out forever! So this means a lot more to us than playing pool,” said Mike.
New England Pool and Billiards Hall of Fame member Charlie Matarazzo of Medfield, MA died of cancer in 2020 at the age of 79. His son, Joe and brother, Rick played on a team sponsored by The New England Women’s Pool Alliance. “I played in many events with Charlie over the last two decades. He was very friendly and always had a smile on his face. The pool community was very saddened by his passing. I was happy to have the Alliance sponsor a team with his son and brother in this event,” said Fiorilla.
Marc Dionne of the New England 9 Ball Series sponsored the event and played on a team with Ben Savoie (sponsored by USAPL/BCA). Marc’s father Robert lost his battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia over a decade ago. “I really wanted to help with this event and see it raise a lot of money for cancer research”, said Dionne. “I run a memorial tournament for my parents every year and I was so disappointed that I had to postpone it this year due to Covid. I thought about my dad all day while I played in Pool for Jimmy event. Someone made a $2000 donation in memory of my parents. I think that was the event’s biggest donation and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.”
Jud Strang and Chad Bazinet, who played together on a team sponsored by The Happier Choice of Dedham, ME, both had personal experiences with cancer.
Strang, sadly, lost his dad to cancer earlier in life.
Bazinet lost a special friend in 2020. Although never having met in person, Bazinet formed a relationship with Kevin Duckham, owner of TriFlex label company in Long Island, after contacting the company to produce an unusually large order for a client. Duckham personally oversaw the month-long ordering process and Bazinet was so impressed that he continued to work with Duckham for years. ” After someone works so hard to help you, I couldn’t wait to go find more label jobs to send this guy! A great connection was formed over the next few years. I’d check in with him from time to time if there were no pending orders... I loved the part where I couldn’t pick this guy out of a lineup or any photo, but we’d laugh... I just assumed he was this little old Italian guy, having his sons run the business downstairs while he took every one of my calls and helped me through every project, easy or hard! He made me feel VIP. As a salesperson, knowing you have your vendor in your corner and as a friend, I felt invincible! “ Bazinet was crushed when Duckam’s son Tim called to say his dad had passed from cancer at age 58. “I can tell you, I haven’t felt this sad in a long, long time, and it’s clear to me that work family people, are just as important as biological family,” Bazinet wrote in a company email in 2020. “It’s very cool how this came full circle for me,” Bazinet said of the Pool for Jimmy event, “with Jud losing his dad to cancer this meant a lot to us both!”
Dharma Lim, owner of the Lim’s Sports Bar (formerly known as Grand China Billiards), family member of a cancer patient, and an avid pool player was a Gold Level ($500+) event sponsor. Due to work commitments, he was unable to complete in the tournament. When asked why he was so dedicated to this event he replied, “The fact that it was The New England Women’s Pool Alliance putting this together was enough for me to donate. I would have to say we all have to do our part to help get rid of this horrible disease. Donating what I can is the easy part no matter how small. I just regret not being able to be more involved.”
Why weren’t there any cash prizes in this event?
This event was primarily a fundraiser and secondarily a pool tournament. Typically, in this type of fundraiser the sponsors want as much money to go to the charity as possible. Therefore, it is more appropriate to give out donated items as prizes. We gave out about $3000 worth of prizes to the top finishing teams in the tournament and as gifts to the teams for fundraising.”
Who were the top fundraising teams?
Our top fundraising team was Chris Jackson/Mark Tringali (owner of Run ‘Em Rack Billiards in CT) who raised over $2500. Four other teams raised over $1000 each: Mark Morgan/Rick Sleeper sponsored by Master Billiards, Chad Bazinet/Jud Strang sponsored by The Happier Choice, and Ryan Lineham/Jay Duffin and Heidi Rezendes/Matt Rezendes, both sponsored by Run ‘Em Racks Billiards. (Author’s note: The top fundraising team was actually Barrett and Fiorilla, who had raised over $3200 by the event date. As the event organizers, they were not eligible for any prizes and did not compete in the tournament, so they did not include themselves.)
Who were the top sponsors?
Our Gold Level ($500+) sponsors were Run ‘Em Racks Billiards in Johnston, RI, The Lim’s Sports Bar (formerly known as Grand China Billiards) in Salem, NH, Snookers Sports Bar and Billiards in Providence, RI, Racks Billiards in Vernon, CT, Pinnacle HVAC in Acton, MA, and Dorch Engineering in Loxahatchee, FL.
How did you get a sponsor from Florida not even associated with the billiards industry?
It was through a personal connection. The owner, Chris Dorchester, is originally from Cape Cod. He has previously supported cancer research and participated in the Pan Mass Challenge (another Dana-Farber fundraiser where participants ride bicycles up to 211 miles across Massachusetts that has raised $831 million since 1980). When he heard about the Pool for Jimmy fundraiser, he was immediately on board to be a Gold Level supporter.
What were some of the challenges in planning this event? Organizing all the sponsors and players was very time-consuming. We also spent a lot of time setting up and maintaining all of the fundraising pages for each team. As we got closer to the event date, we had additional challenges with replacing players that had to drop out due to Covid-19. We didn’t want anyone who had put effort into fundraising for this event to not be able to play in the tournament because their partner became unavailable. We were very lucky that we had a list of backup players to draw from but eventually we exhausted the list and scrambled to find replacement players the night before and even the morning of the event. We really want to thank Bill Cote, Pat Dedam, Steve Mathieu, Josh Grzasko, Ron March, and Allen Gonsalves who stepped in at the last minute so that we could run a full bracket.
We also found out the night before the event the person who was going to set up the equipment for the live stream couldn’t make it. We can’t thank Beau Powers enough for setting up his own equipment so that Mike DeMarco and Ray MacNamara could remotely provide commentary from the studio at Snookers Bar and Billiards in Providence, RI. Is there anyone else you want to thank?
As you can imagine an event of this size requires the involvement of many people to be successful so there are many people to thank (hopefully we don’t forget anyone). Sarah Eldredge at Dana-Farber devoted a lot of time to helping us with fundraising page issues. The Crow’s Nest staff did a fantastic job hosting the event and providing a coffee service for the players.
Many businesses donated items to the Opportunity Drawing (this is like a raffle where in exchange for making a donation to Dana-Farber people receive a ticket giving them the opportunity to win a prize). Some of the notable donors to the Opportunity Drawing were Pechauer, JB cases, D and L Billiards in Warwick,RI, Amazin Billiards in Malden, MA, Kevin Bauccio, and The Long Blue Cat Brewery in Londinderry, NH.
Speaking of the drawing we also need to thank Ann Mason for running it. We previously met Ann last spring when she sponsored our domestic violence awareness women’s tournament and has continued working with us since then.
Were you happy with the outcome of the event?
Yes, we are very happy! Despite the small challenges, the event itself ran smoothly. The participants seemed happy to be there and we didn’t really hear any complaints. Everyone was so generous and we never imagined would raise over $32,0000. Initially, we thought setting the goal at $10,000 would be pushing it.
Will there be future Pool for Jimmy events?
Yes! We hope to make this a yearly event and to increase the fundraising goals. Most of the sponsors want to continue to support future events and we hope the success of this year’s event will attract new sponsors.