The game of pool has a certain image: rough-and-tumble guys leaning out of the darkness and onto a brightly lit table, peering through the smoky haze to size up a shot on which a sizeable sum of money hinges. With the Blue Ridge chapter of the American Poolplayers Association, that stereotype is only partly true — the bars and pool halls of Western North Carolina can get a little smoky, but the league bans gambling and the players are everyday people, not pool hustlers.
In fact, many of them are women, like Pamela Bristol or Jennifer Reeder. They say it’s still a man’s sport by the numbers, but that shouldn’t stop any woman from joining in the fun.
Local league operator Vicki Catalano says fun is the primary purpose of the league.
“The emphasis is on ‘amateur’ and the league is designed to be a fun, social event,” Catalano says. “Some of the players are real good shots and some are just learning to cue.”
Catalano and her husband recently took over the local franchise after she played on an APA league in New York for five years and served as her division’s representative.
The APA, a 30-year-old organization that now boasts 250,000 members, is a highly organized group with a comprehensive rulebook (forget house rules). Local leagues play several sessions per year, which culminate in playoff tournaments, with the winners facing each other in national tournaments in Las Vegas. The Blue Ridge APA wraps up its session playoff early this month.
Jennifer Reeder is among those in the Blue Ridge APA playoffs. Reeder, 30, has been playing pool since she was 16, when her grandmother stored an antique pool table at her childhood home. Before long, she and her best girlfriend were heading to the local pool hall, where it seemed all the other girls were just there to accompany their boyfriends.
“We were never really girly girls,” she says.
The game of pool was also the ultimate antidote to the boredom of a small town, Reeder says. She continued to play on and off through the years, picking it up again while bartending at a local bar, then joining another APA league in Pennsylvania, and finally landing in Asheville and joining the Blue Ridge APA one year ago this month.
Now that she’s busy working as a program assistant at a local mediation center and waitressing, her regularly scheduled Monday-night pool games also serve as a respite from the hectic pace of life. “I just wish I had more time to practice,” she says.
Even though the league’s emphasis is supposed to be on fun, Reeder also thrives on the competition. “The feeling you get after winning a match is pretty awesome,” she says.
Pamela Bristol, 26, also picked up the game in her childhood. Her brother gave her a pool stick when she was eight years old. The duo played on a 25-cent table at the local bowling alley in Morganton. Unfortunately, her local pool hall was off-limits. “That wasn’t a very reputable place,” she says. “It was one of those places where your parents tell you it’s not for girls. If you were there, you were the wrong kind of woman.”
Of course, Bristol never saw anything wrong with a woman playing pool. She never cared whether or not men dominated the game. She never even saw “The Hustler” until this year. The 1961 classic, featuring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, certainly portrayed the film as a man’s game, as did its sequel with Tom Cruise, “The Color of Money,” in 1984.
Today, Bristol notes, ESPN regularly features women’s pool tournaments, which she says helps bolster the ranks of females in APA leagues. With those games on national television, women “see that women can do that can be good at that (pool), and they don’t need a man to stand behind them and show them how to do it,” she says.