The cowboy hat John Brown wears atop his head any time he’s at the Bradenton Shuffleboard Club or Trailer Estates Park and Recreation isn’t just his signature look. With its wide brim and pins stuck across the crown, Brown’s hat tells a story.
There are pins from tournaments he has won in Florida. There are pins from clubs he has never played at, acquired in trades he made with opponents long ago. The simplest one on his hat right now is a flag — a big red dot and a white surface. The Japanese flag is a reminder of just how far shuffleboard has taken Brown.
“I’ve played twice on every continent but Africa,” Brown said. “There was always some people who’d never heard of it.”
He was part of inaugural tours to Ireland, Denmark and Brazil, bringing the first shuffleboard games ever to the countries. He has played for the United States national team eight times at ISA Team World Championships, and his international competitions have taken him to Australia, Canada and Japan. He believes his column, which has run in the Herald every week during shuffleboard season since 1994 when he moved to Bradenton and began playing consistently, is the longest continuously running shuffleboard column in the world.
That worldliness is perhaps the most important piece of a resume that has led to his selection to the International Shuffleboard Association (ISA) Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame has 72 members. Brown, who has lived in Bradenton during winters since the mid-1990s, will become the 73rd — and 31st American — in either June or July.
“It’s the only sport I ever excelled at,” Brown said. “It’s the greatest sport in the world. It’s a sport you can play from the age of 5-105.”
His life in shuffleboard began as a 10-year-old in Covington, Ind. His uncle was a seasonal resident in Florida and later founded the Florida Shuffleboard Association Hall of Fame. Brown quickly grew fond of the sport and decided he wanted to do well enough in his life to retire to Florida and take the sport more seriously.
Seventy years later, Brown admits there are many better players than him, but few have done more to promote the growth of the game in recent decades.
Despite shuffleboard’s roots in England, the sport most firmly took root in the United States, bypassing other countries in the United Kingdom and Europe, which is what led to two of the inaugural tours in Ireland and Denmark. The third, to Brazil, came in 2002. On each tour, they would set up temporary courts in recreation centers and town halls. In Denmark, he once spoke at city hall in Copenhagen, teaching the city’s lord mayor the history of a sport that had originated nearby.
“There were always some people who’d never heard of it,” Brown said.
He spent summers in the 1990s and 2000s playing with the U.S. national team and is a former winner of the country’s spirit award. During the 1990s, he chaired a committee tasked with trying to unify the disparate rules used across the world as part of an effort to get shuffleboard into the Summer Olympics. Florida, ultimately, wouldn’t budge.
He was inducted into the Florida shuffleboard hall of fame in 2007 and the United States’ national association’s hall of fame in 2010.
This summer’s induction ceremony will take place in Lakeside, Ohio, where Brown spends time each year helping run youth tournaments in one of the largest shuffling communities outside Florida. The ISA wanted to hold Brown’s ceremony in Brazil, where, 15 years after helping to introduce the sport to the country, the nation is playing host to the world championships. However, Brown’s wife of 60 years, Dolores, prefers not to travel, so the parties settled on Ohio.