Young moms, hip dads and tattoo-sporting singles are popping up in some unusual places: Central Florida’s shuffleboard courts.
Long considered a senior citizens’ pastime, shuffleboard is attracting new fans.
“It’s something the whole family can enjoy,” said Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, an avid player. “You’ve got people from all walks of life.”
Orlando resident Rick Kilby is leading the charge in Central Florida. On Saturday his Orlando Shuffle group celebrates its first anniversary at the Beardall Senior Center, where an influx of younger fans has sparked a makeover of the community center’s shuffleboard courts.
“We haven’t had many seniors,” said the 49-year-old Kilby, a graphic designer and author. “It’s from kids to families to hipsters, middle-aged people. It’s the whole spectrum.”
Kilby attributes some of shuffleboard’s newfound popularity to the ease of the game. Players slide discs across a textured cement court, attempting to land in marked scoring zones while knocking the discs of other players out.
According to the 100th Anniversary Committee of the FLORIDA SHUFFLEBOARD Assn., the ancient sport of “shovel-board” evolved into its modern form on cruise ships before shuffleboard was first played on land in 1913 at the Lyndhurst Hotel in Daytona Beach. During the sport’s heydays in the 1950s, the Kissimmee Allstates Tourist Club boasted more than 1,000 members at its shuffleboard court.
A 2010 visit to the now-defunct Kissimmee club sparked Kilby’s interest in the game. “I’m a lover of Florida history and all things kitschy and fascinating about our state,” he said. “And nothing says ‘Old Florida’ like shuffleboard.”
That same love of retro culture has ignited a shuffleboard renaissance at new venues such as the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., where patrons can sip craft cocktails named for famous players at a courtside bar. In Florida, the St. Petersburg Shuffle Board Club boasts a growing young membership and hosted last year’s International Shuffleboard Association World Singles Championship.
Kilby was hooked after attending those games.Months after launching the Sanford Shuffle in 2013 at the Sanford Civic Center, he was on the lookout for courts that could host a similar monthly event in Orlando.
The Beardall Senior Center south of downtown Orlandofit the bill.Its 16-lane shuffleboard court has been around since 1984 but had long been unused by regulars.
“Until Rick came about, it was kind of a dying sport,” said Beardall facility manager Cheryl Rainsberger.
In October 2013, Kilby filled at least six of those lanes with competitors at his first Orlando Shuffle meeting. In May the Beardall court — with Sheehan’s help — received more than $25,000 worth of renovations including resurfaced lanes, repainted scoreboards and repairs to the courtside benches.
Local shuffleboard players will have new cause for excitement in 2016, when the International Shuffleboard Association World Championships will be held in St. Cloud. By then, Kilby hopes his Orlando Shuffle events will become a weekly affair. Plans are in the works to add decorative lighting at the Beardall court.
For now, Orlando Shuffle regulars such as Erin Hearn are following the pace of the sport and taking it slow.
“I’m still learning the rules, but it’s a simple game,” said Hearn, 37, of Orlando. “That’s what I like about it. You can play with kids, older people, whoever.”