PINELLAS PARK – When Bob Guerrini, 88, moved to Pinellas Park 16 years ago, his uncle asked him, “What do you do there in Florida?”
Guerrini replied, “We play shuffledboard.”His uncle just laughed.
“He thought it was funny,” Guerrini said. “At one point, I would have thought it was funny, too. But that’s what we do.”
Originally from western Pennsylvania, he’d never played the sport until he got to the Pinellas Park Senior Center, where shuffleboard thrives as one of the center’s most popular programs. Now he and his wife, Arlene, are professionals and they travel the state to compete.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” Guerrini said. But all it took was one game for him to be hooked.
Linda Keen, a recreation assistant at the senior center, has overseen the shuffleboard program for the past four years. She said she’s seen an uptick in interest in the sport. The Black & White Shuffleboard League – which Keen says is called a league for lack of a better term and is more informal – plays three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
“On an average day, we get about 50 people,” she said. “We’re pretty full even in the summer time. It’s getting bigger.”
The shuffleboard courts are also open to individuals on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to dusk and Saturdays from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. Though on those days, the courts are made available to other leagues as well as state competitions.
The courts are open to anyone 50 and older who is a member of the senior center, she added. They don’t need to be from Pinellas Park. In fact, the shuffleboard program draws players, both men and women, from throughout the county.
It also attracts players of all skill levels, she said.
“We have amateurs. We have pros. We have state amateurs. We have just the regular people who come out here every day,” Keen said. “So it ranges.”
Though there might be some friendly rivalries, everyone is friendly and the more experienced players are often happy to take newbies under their wings. In fact, said Jacqueline Wetmiller, 71, who lives in the Harbor Lights Club Mobile Home Park in the Bay Pines area, some of the pros mentored her when she first joined the Pinellas Park Senior Center. “I was really lucky and I’ve improved steadily every game,” she said.
She was drawn to shuffleboard because “the game is a challenge, some physical, some intellectual. But it’s great. It’s a great game to play.”
Now on her third season, she recently won her first tournament, a Florida Shuffleboard Association state tournament. “It sounds like a wonderful title, but it was more of a fluke than anything else,” she said. “It gave me an opportunity to see how much I’ve improved [after three seasons.] I just happened to beat [some experienced players] and had a good run of games.”
Guerrini agrees that you should expect the unexpected when playing, which is part of the appeal. “Sometimes you know what you’re doing, sometimes you don’t,” he said.
He recalls a recent shuffleboard tournament in Clearwater.
“I’ve never played so bad in my life,” he said. “That just goes to show that sometimes you’re not as good as you think you are.”
And sometimes, he added, people have never played the game before might catch you off guard. “Some who have never played before might surprise you,” Guerrini. “They might get out there and give you a hard time. They might even beat you.
For more information, visit http://www.pinellas-park.com/government/departments/library_and_recreation_Svcs/recreation_services/senior_shuffle_board.php or call 727-541-0776.