UF has a league of extraordinary billiard players


Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Matt Sherman looks around the University of Florida's Pool League and describes the strongest field of players he's seen in his 19 years with the league.
The 30-player league - it's a group that competes with cue sticks, not diving boards - began a new season in recent weeks, meeting Monday evenings in the Reitz Union Game Room to polish their skills and prepare to send at least one player all the way to the National Association of College Unions International Championship in Arizona.
Each week, Sherman goes over the types of billiard games to be played that evening. He believes in having players practice not only popular games such as 8-ball and 9-ball, but also lesser-known games such as one pocket and straight pool.
"This gives players a chance to learn new games and new skills," Sherman, the pool league director, said. "It also improves morale."
Pool league members give the tables a workout for as many as 20 hours a week, perfecting their game and taking advantage of the facilities, considered a higher caliber than most pool halls.
The league uses 16 tournament-size tables, which are 4 feet wide and 9 feet long. Some of the tables are well-preserved antiques and all are considered in good condition, players said.
"Pool can be seen as the Lone Ranger sport, but we help each other out here. This is a cleaner version of pool," Sherman said referring to the smoke- and booze-free environment of the league's domain. He also believes a cleaner image of pool is helping with the sport's popularity.
"You can turn on the television and see pool on at least one channel every night," Sherman said.
Sherman believes that in a few years' time, some of the students playing in the UF league may be good enough to find themselves on television.
Chung-Yu Chang could be one of them. The material science graduate student came to the university less then a year ago. In his native country of Taiwan, pool is considered a major sport like baseball or football.
"Taiwanese (often) win in international competitions," Chang said. "Pool is my sport."
Chang, 25, has been playing pool since he was 7 years old. He's considered the man to beat on the UF team. He's already managed to win a tournament among his fellow league members. He also seems to have won their respect.
On Feb. 17, Chang and 15 other members - eight men and eight women - are scheduled to compete in a tournament in Atlanta. From there, only the best will go on to Tucson, Ariz., in July to compete for the National ACUI Championship. Many think Chang will be UF's representative. He might even be a top contender to bring home the national title for UF.
The last time UF won the title was in 1991.

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