Let’s Play Shuffleboard!
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It’s a little humid but not too bad for a summer morning in Florida. The hum of player chatter is interrupted by the clack of one disk colliding with another on this Tuesday at the Winter Haven shuffleboard courts. We were invited to meet with the Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club by one of its members, Kat Davis-Cooke, and spent the morning learning about the game. Using a long stick called a cue, players push a weighted disc across the narrow court to marked triangular areas. The objective is to accumulate more points than the team you’re playing against by maneuvering the disk into certain areas while avoiding others.
Shuffleboard is a popular recreation activity aboard cruise ships, at hotels, and among retirees. It has origins going back at least 500 years in Europe but didn’t make its way to America until 1913. Robert Ball, the owner of Lyndhurst Hotel in Daytona Beach, played shuffleboard on a cruise ship during his vacation and was so enthused with the sport, he decided to make his own shuffleboard court on the sidewalk in front of his hotel. He then “went about assembling the necessary equipment – some long, pronged poles and some small wooden discs and the first shuffleboard court on dry land made its debut,” according to Chuck Moulton in his article, “Shuffleboard: From Table Top… To Decks… To Courts,” on www.zephyrhillsshuffle.com. Moulton goes on to say, “The sport quickly became popular, especially among retired people, and it was quickly adopted at other resorts and in the retirement communities that sprang up in Florida during the 1920s.” In 1923, St. Petersburg’s City Park Board built two public courts at Mirror Lake Park. “It’s a place sacred in the lore of shuffleboard since it gave rise to the Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club, where the first organized and competitive games were played,” writes Moulton.
According to “The History of Florida Shuffleboard,” a booklet compiled by FSA Historian, Dorothy Spillman Wagasky, Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club is the second oldest club in the state, established in 1926.
Shuffleboard clubs cropped up around the state, and in 1928 the Florida Shuffleboard Association (FSA) was formed, leading to the formation of the National Shuffleboard Association (NSA) in 1931. Shuffleboard saw the height of its popularity in the 1950s, and in 1979 the International Shuffleboard Association (ISA) was founded in St. Petersburg. Though its popularity has declined since its 1950s prime, the sport continues to draw avid players and fans and is played competitively between clubs internationally. In recent years, shuffleboard has garnered popularity with a younger crowd as well. Every Friday night, twenty- and thirty-somethings gather to play, drink and socialize at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club.
To find out more about a game so beloved throughout history and making a come-back with younger generations, we spoke with resident retired pro and District Tournament Director for the FSA Central District, George Adyns. A husky New England accent gives away Adyns’s northeastern origins. He moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 2000 and started playing shuffleboard in 2001. In 2003, after meeting a couple of shuffleboard professionals, Adyns was invited to the Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club. He took notice right away of the difference between the recreational shuffling he’d been playing and tournament-style shuffling at the club and became hooked on the latter.
“I remember my first day here. I joined in March of 2003. I played in the summer here, and when a fellow by the name of Ron Crawford, who was a pro, was here all summer too. I learned more from Ron Crawford than anyone else in the state of Florida. He was so good to me that first summer. I think it’s because of him I liked the game,” said Adyns.
The District Tournament Director has since taken roles as president, vice president, secretary, and director for the club. Adyns has never been the treasurer, though. The retired accountant promised his wife, “When I retire, I am retiring from numbers,” and he’s kept that promise.
“On the first tournament after Thanksgiving, I had already accumulated my five points to become pro the following October,” said Adyns. He played in the state championship tournament, held in Port Charlotte that year, with Bish Kowicz as his teammate. They won the state’s amateur championship double tournament that year.
Adyns turned professional and played for about three more years, slowed down only by progressive pain in his shoulders. He eventually found that he had arthritis, and there wasn’t a thing to be done about it, ostensibly ending his shuffling career. This news came between the 2011-2012 seasons. “That was the end of my playing shuffleboard,” he said. “I was devastated. To tell you the truth, I cried. I just loved to play the game.”
But, looking at the shuffleboard silver lining, Adyns knew there was always a shortage of tournament directors. He started on the path of becoming a tournament director in October of that year. He did one year as an apprentice, became certified in March 2013 as a director, and spent two years in that position. He was later elected to his current position on the board of directors. “I’ve stayed involved with the community only because they’re a bunch of great people. But I miss playing,” he said.
In March of 2020, George Adyns was inducted into Winter Haven’s Shuffleboard Hall of Fame with a service award.
The club presently has around 40 active members. According to member Kat Davis-Cooke, the club is doing Summertime Shuffles for the first time in recent history. During Summertime Shuffle, they gather and play every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 am, weather permitting. During the winter, that shifts to Wednesday and Sunday afternoon, says Adyns.
The club has 24 courts that can accommodate 96 players at one time. They use these courts to practice and host tournaments, including one state amateur tournament and some seven or eight district tournaments. The largest of these is a two-day tournament held in February, says Adyns, an open mixed doubles (open to all players, two players on each team, one man and one woman).
“This district alone is quite large. Territory-wise we are the largest district under the umbrella of the Florida Shuffleboard Association,” said Adyns. The City of Winter Haven plays a supportive role to the Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club. The City owns the shuffleboard courts and made the investment about a year and a half ago to resurface the courts, working with the club for specs of the Nidy surface. The City also provides the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame and allows the club to use the building during tournaments.
The more, the merrier at the Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club. Members welcome all who are interested in the game. According to Adyns, the club typically requires interested players to come once as a guest, the second time as a friend, and join as members on the third visit. Membership is $20 per year.
According to Adyns there are two types of shuffleboard games. The first is called a ‘frame game’ in which 16 frames are played to get the highest score after those frames, or 75 points, whichever comes first. State-sanctioned tournaments play ’75 games’ in which the first team to accumulate 75 points wins. The shuffleboard pro knows a thing or two about the game. Adyns talked tricks of the trade using shuffleboard slang like ‘snuggling’ and ‘the kitchen’ and says he’s willing to share his knowledge with anyone interested in learning more about shuffleboard.
“It can be complicated, but yet it’s very easy,” he said. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, says Adyns. “Nobody has to be afraid of a pro shuffleboard player because I’m willing to bet that 90 percent of the pros would be more than willing to help an amateur or a beginner. […] Help is always available, and we always welcome new people.”
For more information about the Winter Haven Shuffleboard Club, check out their public Facebook Group of the same name. They play at their 24 lighted courts at 250 South Lake Silver Drive SW in Winter Haven and host open shuffles from October to April on Wednesdays and Sundays at 1 pm. Check out Summertime Shuffles every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 am where they offer free instruction, beginners are welcome, and there is no experience or equipment necessary.