For anyone who loves pool it is easy to see (& feel) that 2022 is bursting with momentum, energy, money, talent, & tons of competition! Our 2 years of shutdown, with lots of at home practice (if possible), full of virtual events & watching tons of pool online, has paid off. Matchroom, Predator, The Pro Billiard Series & the WPBA lead the way with full calendars for professionals; however, the biggest shift for the sport of pool is the support of wild card players & juniors. I have had the pleasure of meeting & watching some of these players during my first 2 professional events of the year - WPBA Northern Lights mid-March in Walker, Minnesota & the WPBA/Predator Women's & Men's Las Vegas Open events a couple weeks ago. These young stars are another breed altogether & demonstrate many phenomenal traits including:
dress like top athletes
rock solid fundamentals
support each other & the pool community
respect other players & veterans
are hungry, but humble
THEY LOVE THE GAME!
FACTORS THAT MAKE THE DIFFERENCE & ORGANIZATIONS THAT HAVE LAID THE GROUNDWORK
It is important to take nothing away from the fantastic juniors that have been stars of pool throughout the last few decades, there is simply more access to opportunities present day. Personally I began shooting pool as a young girl (8) in the 90's & didn't have a great outlet as a junior. I remember my dad & I talking about competition when I was 11 (1994), but there were few events & nothing local. My first event would come at 18 & I would be all in the for the next 20 years (& for the rest of my life hopefully), but I wish I had started competing even younger. Another factor in the 70's, 80's & 90's, was that pool still had a reputation as a game of gambling that was played by hustlers in a seedy environment. A reputation which hung around for far too long & however nostalgic, kept many parents from introducing their kids to the game at a young age.
Thankfully the times have changed for the better in many ways, making it easier for our next generation to shine. The game of pool is in the process of a major rebranding movement & has been propelled to another level of mainstream professional production, including marketing, equipment & prize money to boot. These variables include:
technology- making it easier to travel & find events
social media- has helped players find events, showcase new talent to be recruited, connect the pool community to fundraisers, create new sponsorship opportunities, introduce pool to a larger fanbase & more.
increase in the amount & caliber of events - help increase the amount of experience, seasoning & $ that young players can accumulate.
Not only are these rising stars the next level of talent, they truly are a testament to the hard work of different organizations. The Billiard Education Foundation was founded in 1995 https://www.billiardeducation.org/& the APA Junior Leagues (https://poolplayers.com/) have done the leg work for decades to create the foundation that these juniors now catapult from.
Above: Professionals (L to R) Mike Masse, Allison Fisher, Darren Appleton, April Larson (junior at the the time), Johnny Archer, Taylor Hansen (junior at the time), Emily Duddy, Jennifer Barretta & LoreeJon Brown came together in Las Vegas 2015 to raise $ for juniors through the BEF)
LET US MEET SOME OF THE RISING STARS OF POOL!
SAVANNAH "THE ROAD RUNNER" EASTON (12 years old)
You might recognize this young lady from the most recent cover of Sneaky Pete Mafia. Savannah "The Road Runner" Easton turned only 12 in February & is from Las Vegas, NV. Her parents are Larry & Tiffany were married at the Rio Hotel 16 years ago, where Savannah recently played in her 2nd Pro event (talk about full circle)! Her dad Larry is a pool player who started teaching her at the age of 4 (check out her cute photo!). She didn't begin competition until the BEF Juniors in July of 2021, but quickly started to make a name for herself by going undefeated in a local event with adults in Las Vegas at the beginning of 2022. Her mom Tiffany is the social media manager & has created quite the following in a short period of time. I had the pleasure of meeting & spending time with Savannah, and her fantastic parents, at the last 2 WPBA events. She is tenacious, charming, funny, very bright & incredibly talented on the table.
Originally Savannah shot with a side arm since she was so little when she started, even through her first competitions. Then her parents told me that one day she came home after school & spent 3 hours correcting it herself! Talk about self-awareness & initiative at 12 years old. The first thing I noticed about Savannah when I watched her playing was how strong her fundamentals & pre-shot routine were. Definitely a future champion in the making!
SOFIA "PINK DAGGER" MAST (13 years old)
Junior player Sofia "Pink Dagger" Mast is from Tampa, Florida. She began shooting pool at 10 years old & in 3 short years has jumped to playing in her first invitational The WPBA/Predator Las Vegas Open In March/April 2022. Sofia's dad is a long time APA league player & was able to bring her along to his matches. She would play on the practice table while he competed & that's when he noticed that she not only had the desire, but also the talent. He was able to get Sofia into an APA Junior's League run by Hall of Fame Player Jeanette Lee "The Black Widow". Sofia's first competitions were at 11.5 years old in the Junior International Championships (JIC'S) where she played all stops & finished 1st or 2nd place in each of them. Then in 2021 she placed 2nd in the National BEF Qualifiers 18 & under division, but was unable to participate during Covid as they were held in Austria.
When I met Sofia a couple weeks ago in Las Vegas, I was so impressed with her mature, fun, gracious & positive personality. I was able to watch her play in the event & was further blown away by her fundamentals & composure while competing at such a high level. When I interviewed Sofia about her goals with the game she said, "I want to hopefully learn and get better and hopefully become a pro one day." Personally I believe Sofia Mast will fulfill her dream of turning Pro sooner than later.
RIKU ROMPPANEN (14)
Although I have been able to compete & interact on a more intimate level with the female juniors, there have been 2 young stand out male stars who have taken the stage in 2022.
The first is Riku Romppanen who is 14 years old from Finland. Riku recently was invited to compete in the Men's Alfa Las Vegas Open in March of 2022, where he surprised many with his advanced pool skills. Riku earned lots of press for taking down top American Pro Skyler Woodward in the new exciting Predator Shootout format. The video of the defeat can be found on the Predator Pro Billiard Series Facebook page & has has a whopping 169,000 views. After beautifully executing the winning blow, he calmly shakes Woodward's hand & has a crowd of enthusiastic fist pumps waiting from the onlookers! Definitely a rising star!
ERIC ROBERTS (19)
Even though Eric Roberts is technically no longer a junior at 19 years old, his career as a junior makes him so seasoned at this young age we must talk about this phenomenal player! Eric is from Crossville, Tennessee & started competing at the age of 7!
He already holds many junior & local titles. He recently had a stand out performance in the 2022 Predator World 10-Ball Championships held in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago where he finished in the top 32 & in the $. His list of impressive victories in this field included - American Pro Max Eberle (8-4), Dutch Pro Niels Feijen (8-4), Pro Yukio Akagariyama (8-7), & Pro Roman Hybler (8-5). While his 2 losses were to world champion Thorsten Hohmann (4-8) & top pro Dennis Grabe (4-10). Eric is definitely a future champion to keep your eye on!
Only the Beginning...
Hopefully these stars are only the beginning of many more juniors to become so involved & committed to the long journey of pool mastery. There have been many troublesome conversations that pool is a dying sport, but it will not be if the next generation carries it on. Let us remember to support the next generation through positive reenforcement, teaching, sponsorships & social media.
Pool has so many wonderful qualities that can only help humans of any age, but especially growing children & teenagers! These include hand eye coordination, competitive drive, work ethic, social skills, travel skills, increasing attention span, body awareness, self-discipline, goal setting, connecting with the present moment, improving geometry & math skills, & so much more. In the end pool is all about bringing people together, no matter the skill level, that love the game! Thank you for reading, now go shoot more pool!