It’s not surprising that Terrie Johnson chose to meet with me at Player’s Place. This is her gym, after all, the place she goes to practice her sport day after day. Make no mistake about it: on the level at which this lady plays, this is a competitive sport, not just a casual game or barroom pastime.
Terrie is captain for “Doing the Charleston,” a local 9-Ball team that is heading to the American Poolplayers Association (APA) National Team Championships in Las Vegas August 21-29.
Team coach Jerry Gotbeter, who started playing pool back in the 1960s at the old college snack bar on George Street (after getting “kicked off the basketball courts at The Citadel,” he says with a chuckle), works with each member individually and as a team for hours each week, helping them to prepare for competing on the national level.
While we’re talking pool, Terrie assembles her custom cue and racks a table for 9-Ball. “I’m going to need your help for this, coach,” I say to Jerry. He’s glad to offer a few tips as I face off against Terrie. This is what he does.
As we play, we talk about the APA, especially the local league. Pool is thriving in the Charleston area. Hundreds of teams play each week in local venues, including players of all ages and walks of life. It’s an egalitarian sport in which a mechanic in her early 20s can play side by side with a retired CPA.
Consisting of more than a quarter of a million players in the United States and Canada, the APA is the governing body of amateur pool.
Like many players, Terrie discovered pool early on in life. Way back when, she was a 17-year old in Elloree, dating a race horse trainer who needed something to do in the off season. That led the two of them to pool halls where she felt the first glimmers of what would become a lifelong love of the sport.
Now, that love and devotion is carrying her and the rest of her team to national competition.
The eight players comprising “Doing the Charleston” are Terrie, Jerry, Derek Sollars, Nathan Hamilton, Penny Frady, Gary Brooks, Brent Hill, and Frank Taylor. For most of them, the Vegas trip will be a first.
The APA National Team Championships at the Riviera Hotel & Casino represents the crown jewel of competitive pool at the amateur level. Prestigious national titles and hefty purses are up for grabs at the tournament. There is $1 million in prize money to be handed out in the tournament play as teams compete in Open 8-Ball, Ladies 8-Ball, and Open 9-Ball.
Terrie suggests there’s a key ingredient to the local team’s success.
“The players on the team just seem to mesh,” she says.
They have fun together, both in the pool hall and outside of it, which lends a pleasant sheen to the hours of practice, drills, and competitive play in the evenings.
That, and they have a very good coach with decades of experience in knowing exactly how hard or soft to tap a cue ball, and at what angle, to achieve exactly what is needed.
Case in point, as my game against Terrie draws closer to its inevitable conclusion, Jerry advises me to aim a bit higher on the cue ball (a technique the pros refer to as Top English). The way I was going to hit the ball might still sink the shot, he notes, but it would also leave my cue ball in entirely the wrong spot.
“Always think ahead,” Jerry says. “Always be thinking about your next shot.”
It’s good advice, and it helps narrow the gap a wee bit, but Terrie wins just the same. The outcome was never in doubt, of course. That’s why she’s going to Vegas.