NIU hosts junior billiard championship

By Brian Belford

DeKalb | The most prestigious junior billiard event in North America, the Billiard Education Foundation (BEF) Junior National 9-Ball Championships, took place last weekend at NIU’s Holmes Student Center Huskie Den.

From Wednesday to Sunday, the Huskie Den pool tables had over 120 junior billiard players from 26 different states and the Virgin Islands competing in a double-elimination tournament to be named the best junior billiard players in the United States. The athletes competing ranged from eight to 18 years old.

Competitors were bracketed into four different divisions: boys 14-years-old and under, girls 14-years-old and under, boys 18-years-old and under and girls 18-years-old and under.

After four days of competition, two girls, Taylor Reynolds and Briana Miller, and two boys, Billy Thorpe and Danny Olson, emerged victorious and will compete at the BEF Junior World Championships in Kielce, Poland.

“I know it’s bad to say, but I expected to win,” said 15-year-old Miller, who won the girls 18 and under championship 9-0 on Sunday. She has won the girls 14-and-under championship the past four years .

“I finished second last year in the world championships, and I’m very excited to go to Poland,” Miller said.

Fourteen-year-old Reynolds, who had previously placed second three years in a row, won the girls 14-and-under bracket 9-7 in an emotional match that had both athletes in tears by the end.

“I felt like this was the worst I’ve ever played,” Reynolds said. “I was getting upset; my opponent was playing really well. I thought I was going to lose it, but I pulled it out in the end, and that’s what counts.”

The event also featured trick shot exhibitions and touring pro and World Games Gold Medalist Jeanette Lee, who ranks sixth in the world for women’s billiards. She’s known internationally as the “Black Widow” because she always dresses in black.

Lee held a “challenge the pro” hour and spoke at a banquet on behalf of BEF.

“I’m here to support the Junior National players, to embrace and encourage them and lift them up about their future,” she said. “I feel it’s important for them also to hear a professional speak about things that should be core values in their lives, like reading, education and competition.”

This was the third time the event was held at NIU.

“The Billiards Education Foundation wanted to host tournaments on college campuses to give kids more of an academic awareness to the whole fabric of their experience,” said Huskie Den Manager Christian Riddle. “We lobbied real hard to get them back here; we felt like NIU should be the destination for cue sports. We have a real unique venue with 19 permanent tables, a banquet ballroom, the Blackhawk Café that allows for viewing, and, of course, a hotel they can stay in.”

Laura Smith, Billiard Education Foundation Executive Director, said the tournament was about more than just providing exciting competition, as the BEF provides scholarships and works on promoting in-school programs.

“It’s part of our strategy to get those programs going and focus on promoting after school billiard programs across the country,” Smith said. “We feel that kids can learn a lot from playing pool and apply that to different things in their life. Pool is very accommodating and gives everyone a chance to participate in a sport, so even kids who have diabetes or other ailments can still enjoy playing pool.”

While the winners got the title and a shot to compete at the World Championships, the losers had the benefit of growing a little wiser and learning some important life lessons.

“I didn’t shoot my best, but I’m a pretty good loser,” said 17-year-old Brooke Zimmerman, runner-up in the girls 14-and-under championship. “I had so much fun though, and I will be back next year. Every time I played someone, I learned something, and it was a really great experience.”