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Seniors vie for top slots in pool tourney

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Claude Crisp studied the position of the remaining balls on the pool table. He sized up the distance between each one, and the side and corner pockets, then raised his cue stick.

Crisp shot carefully, using just enough force to tap the selected ball into the pocket without scratching. He shot again, putting away a second ball, then continued until he cleared the pool table -- and won the game.

He then politely shook the hand of his opponent, Richard Rowan, 73, of Griffin.

Crisp, 68, of McDonough, was one of more than 50 seniors from Henry, Clayton, and Spalding counties, who participated in the annual Firecracker Invitational pool tournament, for players aged 50 and up.

The competitions were held Tuesday at Back Alley Billiards in McDonough. The tournament involved shooters from the Heritage Senior Center in McDonough, the Spalding County Senior Center in Griffin, the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro, and the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, according to Jo Ellis, supervisor for the Spalding County center, and the director of the tournament.

"There's a 64-team bracket, just like in basketball," said Crisp. "You play until you're beaten twice, or double elimination. You play two out of three games. If you win, you go into the winner's bracket, if you lose, you drop down into the loser's bracket. If you lose again in the loser's bracket, you're out."

He lost one game earlier in the tournament, played in the loser's bracket, and won his next game. Crisp, who took up the game of pool again after his retirement several years ago, said he competed previously in the annual tournaments. "I've won this one a couple of times before," he added.

Faye Williams-Hooker, 58, of Jonesboro, another of the players, was in the competition with her husband, John, 65. She has been playing pool only two months, and almost passed up an opportunity to compete in this year's tournament.

"It's exciting. I was not going to sign up, but I did. I love pool," said Williams-Hooker, as she waited to play her first game of the day. What changed her mind, she said, was seeing the facility, the pool tables, and the players practicing the sport. "[There's] not too many women," said Williams-Hooker. "I kind of like a challenge."

Ellis said the competitions produced three winners: Martin Cunningham, from the Heritage Senior Center, claimed first place; Butler Kenty, from the Griswell Senior Center, came in second; and K.B. Holmes, from the Heritage Senior Center, captured third.

The tournaments have become a tradition, said Ellis. "For the past four years, Spalding County has, in July -- because it's a patriotic month -- done a Spalding County Firecracker Invitational, just to kind of keep it in line with July 4th," she said.

The competitions were originally held in a Spalding County facility, but this year, the facility went up for sale, said Ellis. She said she chose McDonough to hold the contest because the facility is only 20 minutes away from Spalding County.

"This is obviously a senior tournament, so they're getting fellowship and fun, and getting to keep their skills and their competitive edge honed," said Ellis. "Contrary to popular belief, just because you get older, doesn't mean you don't like to compete anymore, you do. You never lose that."

The tournament is also held to allow the competitors an opportunity to practice for the annual Georgia Golden Olympics, held in Warner Robins in September, she said. One of the categories is billiards, she added.