By Daniel Silliman
The first thing Jimmy Jackson did when he and his business partner took over the pool hall, was to take down the giant Confederate battle flag.
"I'm trying to change the image," he said, "but it's kind of like a toothache -- it don't go nowhere."
Jackson and Jim Dupre, the co-owners of Tara Game Room and Billiards, at the intersection of Noah's Ark Road and South Main Street, near Jonesboro, have been working for the last year to clean up the old pool hall's image.
They have quit serving alcohol.
They have banned smoking.
They have banned gambling, and posted a large sign reinforcing the new rules.
They have opened the doors to teens, and are looking for people more interested in "banging balls" than in become pool sharks, or in imitating Paul Newman in "The Hustler," or Tom Cruise in "The Color of Money."
Jackson and Dupre are taking the next step toward become a family-friendly place, this weekend, with an Xbox tournament.
Organized by two 19-year-olds, the Tara Game Room and Billiards will host a Halo tournament this Saturday, starting at noon. The tournament costs $10 per person, Jackson said, and he expects they'll soon be expanding the idea to include other games.
Open from 4 p.m.,, to midnight on school days, and from 1 p.m. to midnight on weekends, Jackson and Dupre charge $3 per hour to play pool and $4 per hour for the video games.
A former Spalding County Sheriff's deputy, Jackson said he has run the "roughnecks" off, and kept the "gangbangers" out. He said he plans to keep it a safe, family-friendly place where teens and kids as young as 9 or 10 can "get off the streets, keep out of trouble, and have a good time."
There are still a few relics of the older, bad reputation period, to be seen. There are a few bullet holes in the doorway. There is a collection of pool players' pictures on the wall. But, Jackson said that's all in the past, for the Tara Game Room.
"Friday night, if Ma and Pa want to go on a date, and they need some place to leave Junior, they can leave him here. It'll be safe. That's the point. That's the whole idea," Jackson said.
For Jackson, the model for Tara Game Room and Billiards is the pool hall he grew up with in Griffin: Pete's Pool Room.
"Pete was a Christian man, and he didn't put up with no hogwash," Jackson said. "There was no cursing and no gambling, whatsoever, and he survived for years. I grew up in Pete's Pool Hall."
He wants the Jonesboro hall to be more modern, though, and to reach out to a younger generation.
"Pool players are kind of a dying breed," Jackson said. "Pete never did replenish his customer base, by reaching the younger people like we're trying to do."