Zephyrhills a hotbed for shuffleboard
February 7, 2018 By Kevin Weiss Leave a Comment
The Betmar Acres community customarily hosts one of the state’s largest three-day shuffleboard tournaments every January, and this year was no different.
Bill Everett, left, a winter resident from Maine, shuffles off a disc during an elimination match at the Florida Shuffleboard Association, Betmar, Winter Shuffleboard Tournament. Visiting opponent Phil Rebholz, of Fort Pierce, waits his turn. (Fred Bellet)
The Florida Shuffleboard Association (FSA) Betmar Winter Open Tournament drew 50 men’s doubles teams and 34 women’s teams — 168 players total — all competing for a state championship and point positioning.
Tavares, Deland, Leesburg, Sebring, Fort Pierce, Bradenton and Hawthorne were just some of the many cities represented by professional and amateur shufflers alike.
But, it was locals who reigned supreme.
Zephyrhills residents Bonnie Collins and Sue Dick claimed the women’s championship, out-dueling Glenna Earle and Diane Beardsley, another Zephyrhills-based team.
On the men’s side, the Zephyrhills duo of Henry Strong and Earl Ball ousted Bradenton’s Dave Kudro and Ron Nurnberger in the finals.
The tournament ran from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31.
Ball, 73, was the center of attention throughout, sporting his signature green jacket and medallions for the many championships he has won regionally and internationally.
Ball, a resident of Betmar, recently became just the third player to amass 1,000 career points within the Florida Shuffleboard Association (FSA) — joining Clearwater’s Glen Peltier (1,364 points) and fellow Betmar resident Joan Cook (1,049 points).
Besides employing varied shuffleboard tactics, Ball had another weapon on his side — home-court advantage.
Waiting her turn, Jan Metzger, a winter resident from Ohio, stands by with her cue and sizes up her strategy for her next turn during the Florida Shuffleboard Association, Betmar, Winter Shuffleboard Tournament held in Zephyrhills.
“Being home I know all the courts,” he said, “so playing ‘kitchen’ becomes easier.”
Having an established longtime partner didn’t hurt, either. His cohort, Strong, currently ranks 12th in the state with nearly 600 career points. “My partner’s an outstanding player. He’s a Hall of Fame player,” Ball said.
Glenn Monroe has served as the Florida Shuffleboard Association’s head tournament director since 2005.
Of the countless shufflers Monroe’s witnessed, he said Ball and Strong “are probably some of the best strategists in the game right now.
“They’re just very good at what they do. They know what the right shot is to take to put pressure on their opponent. They know what their opponents’ tendencies are — and they’ll play against those tendencies,” Monroe explained.
Shuffleboard, or floor shuffleboard, is a game in which players use cues to push weighted discs, sending them gliding down a narrow court, with the purpose of having them come to rest within a marked scoring triangle-shaped area — where different parts of the triangle have varied point values. Matches can be played in singles or doubles.
“The strategy of the game is keeping your opponent from scoring while scoring yourself,” Monroe said, “and this is one of the few games where you can take points off your opponent’s score, in what’s called the ‘kitchen.’”
“It’s a very easy sport to learn, but very difficult to master because of the strategy involved in it. Anybody can learn to make a good shot, but the strategy involved in the prosecution of the game is challenging,” he said.
Kudro, current president of the FSA, likens the game to a combination of pool and chess.
“It’s a multiple-facet game,” he said.
“You make a move, they make a move, and you’re trying to get ‘checkmate’ basically or just trying to score. There’s much more than just shooting it down there and knocking it off,” he added.
Shuffleboard is taken seriously in Zephyrhills, particularly among retirement communities like Betmar, which alone has 24 courts devoted to the game.
Linda Marshman, a winter resident from upstate New York, marks down the score of a match. Her husband, Bob, also played in the tournament.
“It’s the shuffleboard mecca for Florida — there’s no question about that,” Monroe, a resident of Lakeland, said.
“There are more players in the Zephyrhills area than anywhere else in the state. It’s to the point where people will just move into this area to play shuffleboard.”
Zephyrhills is situated in the central district, the largest in the FSA. The district, which also includes Lakeland and Sebring, encompasses more than 3,000 players between 58 clubs and about 580 courts.
“Downtown Zephyrhills and Betmar are probably the two best clubs in this district,” said Lee Hutchins, a Betmar resident originally from Michigan.
“A lot of these people — this is all they do,” he said.
Hutchins first got interested in the game about 10 years ago, picking it up from his father. He’s been hooked ever since. “It kind of got in my blood,” he said.
Hutchins and his shuffle partner won three matchups before running into the Ball-Strong world-beaters.
“People have been playing a long time, like Earl and Henry. They just stick together all the time,” Hutchins added.
Glenna Earle, 73, described the Zephyrhills shuffleboard community as a “big, giant family.”
Earle is a longtime member of the Zephyrhills Shuffleboard Club who recently was inducted into the FSA Hall of Fame after surpassing 200 career points.
“The thing that keeps us coming back is the people — the camaraderie and the people,” she said.
Art Carlen holds a picture of his daughter, Brenda Carlen Zellner, who lost her battle with cancer. The tournament is also known as the Brenda Carlen Zellner Memorial Tournament.
“If anybody has problems, health issues, or someone dies, everyone rallies around them and are there for each other. They’re close-knit with this common interest — the shuffleboard game. But, when you get old like this, it’s nice to have company when you’re in trouble or whatever, and so it’s a really rewarding experience.”
That’s the case for 87-year old Art Carlen.
For 12 years running, the Betmar Winter Open Tournament has been named in honor of his late daughter, Brenda Carlen-Zellner.
She lost her battle with cancer in 2005 at the age of 40 in Pennsylvania.
The elder Carlen started shuffling when he moved to Betmar in 1990. He continues to play regularly, appreciating its strategy and social aspects.
“First of all, it’s excellent for exercise,” he said, “and I’ve met so many nice people.”
After an early elimination, Carlen stuck around to view the conclusion of the tourney.
He kept a watchful eye on Ball, pointing out he was one of his first instructors nearly 20 years ago. “He went way beyond me,” Carlen said. “Gotta give him credit.”
Published February 7, 2018
Sent along by FSA President Dave Kudro. 2018 02 08.