State shuffleboard champs crowned in NFM
The best shuffleboard players in the state came to the North Fort Myers Recreation Center, the location of the Lee County Shuffleboard Club to participate in the premier event of the state shuffleboard season.
The eight best men and women in Florida competed in the 55th annual Florida Shuffleboard Association Masters tournament this week. For four days, they faced off in a round-robin, head-to-head tournament to see who would become state champion.
“It’s been great. We’ve had great weather and the best 16 players in the state here. Everything ran smooth and we didn’t have any problems,” said Dick Widdis, president of the Lee County Shuffleboard Club. “The competition is good. Everyone is hanging in there and most have been here before.”
The shufflers played from Monday through Thursday morning, after which a banquet was held to hand out the awards and trophies to the winners, who now have a combined nine Masters championships.
To hold such an event here is quite an honor. Even though there weren’t as many spectators as he had hoped, Widdis said it would be nice if it drew more people to play the game.
“We have about 20 to 30 people who have never played who are interested in perhaps becoming members, and that’s good,” Widdis said.
The Masters had a mix of experience and youth. There were eight Hall of Famers in the field but here were also five first-time competitors in the event, each of whom earned a jacket, with two women finishing second and third, respectively.
The new players showed they belonged as everyone in the field won at least a third of their matches.
In the end, experience trumped youth. Judy Taylor won her sixth masters championship as she won 16 of her 21 matches. Dianna Allen finished second. On the men’s side, Earl Ball won his third championship with 15 points, two better than runner-up Jim Miller.
Both winners are Hall of Famers, though Taylor may not play any more Masters tournaments, with nothing left to prove and her legacy established.
“I’m blessed. I will continue to play, but I probably won’t play another Masters. I have a bad hip,” Taylor said, who holds the record for most points in a season (88). “It’s a great feeling. We work for it all year and go through the grueling procedure. It’s what you work for.”
“The Masters is very grueling. Twenty-one matches in 3-1/2 days are tough,” Ball said, who has qualified for the Masters all 16 years he has been a pro. “I have benefitted from outstanding partners. When I did well in the beginning in singles, it gave me a chance to start off with good partners immediately.”
Ball said the key to winning the Masters is to win some matches you should have lost and keep from losing matches you could lose.
“You stay with it. I’m one of the best strategist in the game and I need every bit of it,” Ball said.