I talked to Serena Black from her home in Decatur, Illinois; she is incredibly articulate, driven, and self-possessed.
Serena describes herself as “basically just your average small-town girl.” She spends a lot of time outdoors; she loves camping, four wheeling, and hunting. Serena’s family is very important to her, and says her brother is her best friend.
She loves animals (she has two dogs, and a chinchilla named Opi,) and she loves to read and write poetry. So, yes, basically just your average teenager. Until her dad brought home a pool table. She quickly became jealous of how well he played, and wanted to be better than him. For Christmas 2011 she got a cue, and then took MVP for her Junior APA league her very first year. Three and a half years ago Serena had never touched a cue. Now, at 16, she’s well on her way to being a force to contend with in the world of competitive billiards.
So, how large of a role does pool play in your life?
Lately, pool has made more of an impact than I had ever expected. I spend quite a bit of time practicing, up to an hour and a half a day when I’m able. Most of that time is, conveniently, bonding time with my family as well. I have met so many new people through the sport; Jeanette Lee gave me a shout out on her fan page because I wrote her a letter, and I got to meet her for the first time over the summer.
I actually have two little fans [of my own], believe it or not! I walked into the banquet hall for the Junior APA championships this summer, and eight year old twin girls from Davenport, IA, came running towards me and gave me a big hug, saying they were glad to see me there. They handed me an origami flower they had made, and I still have it with my trophies. They will never know how much their support means to me. I think pool has really shaped who I’ve become, I have changed so much in the last few years and I believe billiards is behind this!
That’s great! What are some major accomplishments in your game so far, other than that first MVP?
I claimed a 3rd place national title at 14 years old. I was one of the first two females to place simultaneously in a national event in the junior APA, and I was the first official female to place in the higher bracket division.
My father and I often shoot as a team; we have heard that we shoot “like a well oiled machine.” We spend a lot of time drilling each other, and I think that understanding each other’s game really stabilizes our ability to function as one. We placed first in the junior/adult division during the APA championships this summer.
I have also been recognized for my grades, I love school and I think education is very important to ensure the success of the future generations.
So when I ask if pool ever interferes with your schoolwork, the answer is probably a no?
I can’t afford to let it. I have to seriously balance between my social life, my billiards career, and my educational standings. I would much rather sacrifice my social life for the latter two than slack on something that could lead to a better future.
I really hope to go to Lindenwood University, and play under World Champion Mark Wilson. I believe his expertise and character could lead me to a better game. College is costly though, and I value academic scholarship opportunities just as much as athletic.
Do you know what you want to major in at University yet?
Business Entrepreneurship and Business Administration. I really hope to open my own pool hall down the road, and offer training and lessons to children who value the sport. I love variety, and I participate in many extracurricular activities—a pool hall can combine karaoke, tournaments, banquets, dining, catering, etc. It is full of options.
I love the idea of leading an exciting career; I’m really working to center [my occupation around pool]. If I love what I do I will never have to work a day in my life.
That’s an amazing aspiration! So, who are some of your role models?
Jeanette Lee, and Jennifer Barretta. Both women are beautiful and talented, and have had to work very hard to ensure the success of their careers. While Lee has had life threatening medical difficulties, Barretta faced a life full of loss and devastation in personal areas. Both women overcame their obstacles, and proved to the world that they were worth it.
Outside of the sport, I truly admire Johnny Cash. He is my favorite artist. My family are traditional country lovers, and Cash will always be my king. He had gone through so much by the time he was just a boy, but he had a dream and he followed it through. The whole world knew his name, and the impact he left behind will always be present.
He is my reason for not giving up; if these individuals can do it, the only thing standing in my way is myself. Compared to them I live such a fulfilling life. I realize that I take so much for granted; their stories remind me to appreciate everything I have.
What’s it been like for you to participate in a sport so heavily dominated by men?
I find myself [to be] very competitive within the sport… I have been told “You’ll never amount to that,” multiple times regarding my gender. It can be really hard sometimes because, being so young and being a girl, I hardly ever get the benefit of the doubt. Most people take one look at me after hearing that I shoot pool, and their first thought is, “Well, this is going to be easy.”
It can really be discouraging sometimes, but I look past it and think about how good it will feel to prove my worth.
No one expects much from a teenage girl, but I expect a lot from myself. I’m my own worst enemy, I am my most fierce opponent. I may have the short end of the stick but it only motivates me to show the world that the underdogs can come out on top.
I’m The Little Engine That Could—this was my favorite childhood book my father used to read to me; he is a train conductor. It’s a story about a little [train] engine who was always doubted. He had no self confidence, but one day he begins to repeat “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and he proves everyone wrong. I’ve always loved that book. [It] really introduced me to the values of optimism and hard work.
Is there anything you’d