Shuffleboard Champion Mae Hall wins by cutting down opponents’ scores while building up her own. May 1964.
Mae Hall, a trim, brown-haired, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed woman in her early 50s, is known in the rather special world of competitive shuffleboard as the Babe Didrikson of the game. A particularly good shuffleboard play is often referred to as “a Mae Hall shot,” and when Mae practices at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club at Mirror Lake, large crowds swarm around to watch her play.
This is an article from the May 25, 1964
This season Mrs. Hall won eight of the 10 singles tournaments she entered and was runner-up in the other two. Included in her victories were the National Winter Singles, for the seventh time, the Full Moon Singles, the Masters and, for the sixth time, the Florida State title. She also took the Kow Kapital Women’s Doubles, with Bess Henderson as her partner (Kissimmee, Fla. is the Kow Kapital), and finished fourth in the President’s Trophy Mixed Doubles. Her husband Herbert, who makes the bamboo cues she uses, was her partner. Last year Mrs. Hall won the National Women’s Doubles with Mrs. Henderson and finished third in the Fun ‘n Sun Mixed Doubles with Herbert. (Clearwater, Fla. is the Fun ‘n Sun city.)
In her 14-year career of serious shuffling, Mrs. Hall has won 46 singles tournaments out of 76 entered—more than anyone in the game—and has been runner-up 18 times. She has also been captain of the All-America Shuffleboard Team and has five times been Champion of Champions champion. She has finished at the top of the St. Petersburg Times “Roll of Champions”—a semiofficial ranking of Florida shufflers based on tournament records—for the past seven years. One year she tied for first with her archrival, Mrs. Mary Scalise.
The residents of St. Petersburg, the Sunshine City, take their shuffleboard seriously. It is the national game of Florida, and St. Petersburg, with more than 10,000 players and more than 200 courts, is the shuffleboard capital of the world. The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club is by far the world’s largest, with 4,200 members and 107 courts. Ten of the top 11 lady players in Florida belong to the St. Petersburg club, and this year all four National Winter Singles titles—men’s, women’s, men’s senior and women’s senior—were won by residents of St. Petersburg.
Apart from social games, the city holds closed tournaments for persons 60 or older, non walking tournaments (for persons who don’t like to walk from one end of the court to the other), tournaments for “experts” (the professionals of the game) and playoff tournaments, where the men’s winner and the women’s winner fight it out for the universal championship.
St. Petersburgers also are avid readers of shuffleboard news. Last year, when the St. Petersburg Times decided, for reasons of space, to cut down its shuffleboard coverage, 2,500 distraught shufflers petitioned for more lineage. The Times capitulated. There also are a shuffleboard annual in which fans can read about the year’s triumphs and disasters and a book of instructions that contains shuffleboard problems.
Shuffleboard—once banned in New England in the 1840s because there was too much betting on it—is a somewhat less active sport than Indian leg wrestling, but at the tournament level it requires a sound sense of tactics, extreme accuracy in placing the disks and on occasion a good deal of explosive energy. The game, believe it or not, can be dangerous. “Board-cleaners,” the Mickey Mantles of the sport, shoot so hard in clearing opponents’ disks that the disks sometimes break into pieces and go hurtling all over the place. The leg of one scorekeeper was cracked by a board-cleaner’s disk in a recent St. Petersburg tournament, and Mrs. Hall herself was once whacked in the ankle by a wild disk from a nearby court.
Tournament tempers are not always the most placid. In last month’s Masters Tournament in St. Petersburg, one player got so incensed by a referee’s call that he stormed to the tournament director’s booth and swung at an official.
Block and hide
The game has its own esoteric vocabulary. A “block” is a disk placed on the court so that it interferes with a straight shot by one’s opponent; a “hide” is a disk protected by a block. When a disk enters the 10-off area, it is said to be “in the kitchen.” One of Mae Hall’s specialties is knocking opponents’ disks into the kitchen.
Like weekend golfers, shufflers do not hesitate to psych their opponents when the competition is close. Mrs. Hall, normally a calm player, gets upset when an opponent stands alongside and slowly jiggles her cue as Mae is about to shoot. Clearing the throat or slowly moving forward within the shooter’s vision are other popular practices on the courts. Loud humming by an opponent is sure to distract Herbert Hall. “Men, however, are generally more considerate than women,” says Mrs. Hall.
Herbert, who gets quite tense when his wife is in a tournament, once nearly cost Mae a championship. In the finals of the nationals four years ago in Daytona Beach, Mae was about to shoot when a terriffic clamor arose. On top of the clubhouse roof, trying to capture a runaway parakeet, perched Herbert. Brandishing a cage he happened to have with him (Herbert has a way with birds, and the Halls own a parakeet that talks to itself), he lured the bird inside as cheers and applause welled up from below. After Herbert had reached the ground, Mae relaxed and knocked two of her opponent’s disks into the kitchen.
The Halls started playing shuffleboard in 1946 while living in Colorado Springs, where they owned an apartment house. They were so intrigued by the geometry of the game that they stayed on the court for 10 straight hours the first time they played. Mae, who had never been interested in sports before, took some lessons from the local pro and, by constantly practicing such shots as the rolling block and the rolling kiss, rapidly became a first-rate player. She soon overtook Herbert, who had beat her at first, and in 1950 she became the Rocky Mountain singles champion by defeating Herbert in the finals 83-48, 81-4 (in shuffleboard 75 or more points is usually the winning score). Because of her knack for depositing opponents’ disks into the 10-off space, Mae gave some competitors such a minus score while building up her own plus score that they quit and stormed off the court. “The men were worse sports than the women,” Mae recalls.
Running out of western competition, the Halls moved to Miami in 1952, where Herbert went into real estate. Two years later Mae won her first national singles title. The Halls then moved to St. Petersburg, where they still reside. After another venture into real estate, Herbert retired from business. In 1960 he developed arthritis in his right arm and thought he would have to give up the game. But at Mae’s urging he started to practice left-handed. For three months he shot most of his disks into the gutter. Finally his touch came back, and he reached the finals of the men’s nationals, shooting southpaw.
Mae, who shoots with a firm wrist, a loose grip, a one-and-a-half-step approach and level shoulders at the point of release, believes her biggest victory came in 1962. After winning the Times-Mae Barber women’s tournament, she competed against Webster Smith, the men’s champion, in a playoff for 100 silver dollars. Smith led 72-53 in the final. Three points away from victory. Smith, in trying to protect one of his disks that was in the 7 space, shot one that scooted all the way down the court and landed helplessly in the kitchen, reducing his score by 10. Mrs. Hall promptly slid a disk through the clutter into the 8 space, making the score 62-61, Smith’s favor. In the next half round, with Smith having the all-important last shot, Mae managed to get a 7 to Smith’s 8. Then, in what turned out to be the final half round, Smith skillfully landed high in the 10 space. The crowd began to shout, “Put him in! Put him in!”—meaning into the kitchen.
As Herbert watched tensely on the sidelines, Mae carefully launched a shot directly at Smith’s disk. Hers, bumping his, came to a stop in the 10 space while Smith’s skidded down into the 10-off. That won the game for Mae, 78-60. It was the first time a woman had beaten a man in the Times-Mae Barber playoff.
Like any champion, Mae Hall produces her best shots under pressure. In last month’s Masters she trailed in a critical match with Mary Scalise and was faced with a nearly impossible shot. “Mary had a 7 hid so I couldn’t see it,” she said recently. The Halls were in the living room of their cozy St. Petersburg home, which is filled with singles and doubles trophies. (About 50 more have spilled over into the garage.) “From past experience,” Mae went on, “I knew the court had a drift that would make my disk curve after it slowed down. So I shot around the block, got rid of her 7 and took it into the kitchen.”
“One of the best shots of the year,” Herbert said. “The crowd went wild, and a lot of people waved Mae Hall dolls.”
The Halls exchanged happy looks. Then Mae rose, seized her cue, handed Herbert his, and they buzzed off to the club for some practice.
FROM PEGGY HOUSE >> 2006 12 10
Peggy House Speaks in 2007 12 10: Hi Stan: Reading “the shuffler” re acquiring points, no one will ever match the achievement of the legendary Mae Hall of St. Petersburg who accumulated over 2000 points in her shuffling career. This was done when you had to lag for colour before starting the match and play that colour throughout the match! Ask Mary Eldridge about those days! If you lost the lag, you had to play that much smarter to win and you earned it! Happy Holidays! Peggy House
P.S. My biggest thrill outside of winning the Masters was beating Mae and her partner Bob Litts in the President,s Mixed Doubles the first year I played Pro with Charlie Madalone
FROM EARL BALL ON MAE HALL 2006 12 13
Hi Stan: The record shows that Mae Hall finished with 2224 points, the only women to have at least 1000 points! The record shows that she won the “Masters” 15 times. I don’t think many people have played 15 “Masters”. Mary Eldridge told me Mae was at the top of her game for 35 years. Certainly, Mary (Eldridge) or maybe Jane O’Bird would be best able to tell you about her. The points records were originally put together by Col. Peter Cleary Bullard in the early 50’s and he tried to go back to 1928. That alone tells you that many different types of tournaments were probably used to tabulate the points and probably didn’t just include what we know as State tournaments. Different numbers of points were awarded depending on the importance of the tournament. Glen Peltier told me that when the point system started the top players were asked how many points they thought they had accumlated and they were given those points as a beginning piont. No matter I’m certain Mae Hall was an outstanding player.
Stan speaking to Jane (O’Bird) Hi Jane: You once told me that I spent too much of my time on Male Shufflers and not enough on Women!!! My reason for wanting information is that I would like to do a story on one Mae Hall. Sounds like she was a fantastic shuffler. Any and all info. you can send me will be very much appreciated!!! (Do you know if she is alive?? Do you know if perhaps she has e-mail?) I have e-mailed Mary Eldridge but she has not yet responded. sent to Jane 2006 12 13.
RX DOROTHY WAGASKI 2006 12 13: Thanks for the note, nothing that I have at home, will check down at the Rec Center, the gal that really knows about her will be Mary (Eldridge); I do remember seeing her in the late 80’s at St. Pete, but I don’t think she was playing, she had stopped by to watch and everyone ran to her and hug, I really didn’t know how great a player she had been. She played in most all the tourneys in her day. Very pretty gal.
Jane O’Bird Replies: Hi Stan, Mae passed away. Mary would have a lot of her info I’m sure. Andre Huot has all my Previews (1950 – 2005). I tied Mae’s record 19-2 and I was the only one who could prove it. Mae thought I even beat her record of 18-3. She called me that night Stan. I do have some of her Master years which I will send you tomorrow. Thanks for e-mailing me. Mary should answer you. Love, Jane-O
Mary Eldridge Speaks: Peggy House is correct in saying that we had to shoot for color before the first game and stay on the chosen color throughout the match. Read the rules in the old Previews. If you wanted to have a shuffleboard career in those days you had to be able to play the court no matter which color you were stuck with.
Plus there were no points given for consolation placements. As to the tournaments, there were no “split tournaments” where you could choose the tournament you thought would have the weakest turnout and you would have the best chance of picking up some points. You had to play the top players in every tournament (singles and doubles) and if you could play then you would win your share of points. There were also no “sit down” singles. Players of all ages all the way up into the 80s had to walk to win in singles. If you couldn’t play walking singles then you were done with singles and you focused on doubles. Neither the “pro” (“expert”) or amateur game was changed to accommodate player’s declining capabilities. That helped maintain the integrity of the game and the records because shuffleboard was conducted as a sport.
Mae Hall (from Mary Eldridge 2006 12 15)
Mae Hall would have been an exceptional player in any era. She had a remarkable ability to adapt to any court conditions and to do it quickly. That was one reason for her 2200 plus points. Other reasons were her fiery determination to win and the fact that she played about 30 years in the “expert” division and played just about every scheduled tournament!! It goes without saying that she was also a very intelligent player. I was very fortunate to have played partners with Mae for several years. The first doubles tournament I won first-place in was the National Doubles with Mae. One thing I always appreciated about Mae was that she was a “good sport” – win or lose. You could never have a better partner and you could always count on Mae to give it everything she had – which was considerable. I learned a lot about the game from Mae. The grandstands were usually full to overflowing with knowledgeable spectators when Mae was playing and when she finished the stands emptied quickly.
Shuffleboard was “King” in those days and Mae Hall was the “Queen”. Tournament results and proceedings were in the sports pages every week and Mae was often on the front page. Players took a lot of pride in winning championships and it meant something to be the Florida State Singles Champion or the President’s Trophy Champion or to be the champion of any tournament. Players accumulated their points the old-fashioned way – they earned every single one of them. Not a bad way to get your points.