Thomas not your typical pool shark

By Greg Gelpi

"One guy said he thought I would have been a knitter," she said smiling. "I about popped him one."

Linda Thomas leaned over the billiards table, peering down her pool stick at the ball before knocking in a string of shots at the Riverdale Senior Center.

"I guess people think it's a young person's game," she said.

Thomas, 59, and her husband, Frank Thomas, play nearly every weekday around lunchtime before he heads to work at the Dunlop rubber plant.

The former North Clayton High School basketball player was asked to play softball for a Budweiser semipro softball team in the 1970s, claimed several softball and tennis titles since and is now racking up pool accolades.

In less than a year since picking up the game, Thomas has already won the Riverdale Senior Center pool tournament and won the Clayton County senior Olympics competition.

"I've always like sports," she said. "I play the women, I play the men, just about everybody. I hold my own. I guess it's the challenge."

The focus is the key, but Linda Thomas said "if you take it to seriously, you can get disgusted."

Eddie Burgess, a program assistant at the senior center, started the ladies' billiards club at the center and has helped coach Thomas.

"Linda is athletic anyway, and she was an eager student," Burgess, who has played pool for 50 years, said. "She adapts really well."

She isn't afraid to play anyone because of her competitive nature, he said.

About 40 to 50 people play pool at the center from the time it opens to the time it closes each day, Burgess said. Playing at the senior citizen boosts their confidence, and some even gain the confidence to play pool at local businesses.

"It gives people a common interest, especially if a husband and wife play together," he said.

Activities for seniors are essential, Burgess said.

"It's a matter of life and death," he said. "We try to take that attitude that people in their senior years don't have to sit around on the porch."

Physical exercise, whether it be sports or recreation, is important for all senior citizens, said Frank Whittington, the director of the Gerontology Institute at Georgia State University.

"It can give a sense of accomplishment, not just when one wins, but when one finishes a race or a competition," Whittington said.

Not only do seniors benefit from the physical exercise, they also benefit from the social interaction and emotional and psychological aspect of the activities as well, he said.

The Riverdale Senior Center's ladies' pool club meets at 2 p.m. Thursdays and is open to women who are 55 and older.

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