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CHALKING IT UP: Wilson Moose hosting international pool tourney
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CHALKING IT UP: Wilson Moose hosting international pool tourney

Starr McClure enjoys playing 9-ball the best. She demonstrated her pool playing skills Tuesday night by winning a round of 9-ball in advance of the start of this week’s 29th annual International Moose Pool Tournament.

The tournament, which officially started Wednesday and runs through Saturday, is being hosted for the first time here in Wilson at the Moose Family Center 989 on Forest Hills Road.

McClure and her teammates representing a Moose lodge in Lynchburg, Virginia are among the teams from 17 different states converging here to play as individuals, partners and teams. Wayne Strickland, Wilson Moose member and North Carolina Moose Association vice president, said Wednesday there’s 180 participants in the tournament but well over 300 people are expected to be here for the action.

Following the opening ceremonies, pool players made their way inside the lodge to start warming up and also to catch a glimpse of some of their competitors.

"I feel good,” McClure said as she stopped to get something to drink during warm-ups. "I think my game is strong right now.”

This is McClure’s first international competition. She’s won the state Moose tournament in Virginia. She’s been playing with the Moose about two years now. McClure started playing in a pool league seven or eight years ago. She’s loved pool since learning how to play as a child. But McClure said she didn’t know pool leagues existed in her community until a friend asked her to play.

McClure is playing with an all women’s team. She’s not intimidated about going up against men.

"I’m used to it,” she said. "It makes me a better player. I like the competition.”Cigarette smoke billowed in the air in the main room where the pool tables are assembled. Cases holding each player’s personal cue sticks lined tables in front of their chairs. Players had more than one cue stick at their disposal. A local vendor delivered 15 additional pool tables to the lodge just for this tournament, Strickland explained. Additional lighting was installed over each table.

None of the players knew who their initial opponent would be until the start of the tournament. Players are broken down into an over 60 category and an under 60 category.

Greg Beagle, Wayne Hutchinson, Guy Jones and Sam Gibbons, champions in the men’s team play from last year’s international tournament held in Elkhart, Indiana, are here to defend their title. Beagle and Jones watch as a competitor at a nearby table warms up. Beagle chuckles and likes the fact he won’t have to face the player in individual play because of their age difference.

So far, the men say they like what they’ve seen of Wilson and North Carolina. They drove 12 hours to get here from Michigan. Beagle, Hutchinson and Gibbons are all retired. Jones owns his own company so taking time off to play pool isn’t a problem.

They play in a league every Tuesday night that runs out of their lodge. They are also defending lodge and state champions. This is only their third international tournament.

The Wilson lodge put in a bid five years ago to hold the international tournament here. Strickland said they were officially told the tournament would be coming to Wilson three years ago. Volunteers have really hunkered down over the last six months putting all of the details together so they’d be ready when the first guests arrived here.

Shuttle service between the lodge and local motels started at 2 p.m. Wednesday. There will be a pig cook-off on Friday. A DJ and karaoke will be available each night. Community members can drop in and watch the tournament. Guest badges will be handed out by volunteers working the front door of the lodge.

In the kitchen Wednesday morning, Kay Ballance and the food crew were busy wrapping up breakfast service and catching their breath before starting lunch service. Ballance said they are serving three meals per day during the tournament. There’s a set menu that included ribeyes on the grill Wednesday night followed by barbecue chicken tonight.

Ballance is planning on serving close to 400 people each day not counting the regular Wilson Moose members.

Jimmy Hagans is a member of one of several teams representing the Wilson lodge playing in the tournament. It’s his first year competing in this tournament. He plays pool at the lodge every weekend. Hagans wasn’t too sure how well his team would do in the tournament.

"We’re going to have fun anyway,” he said. "I hope everybody makes new friends and everybody gets along with everyone.”Community and Moose leaders wished the players good shooting and welcomed the visitors to Wilson during the opening ceremonies. Moose members gave the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Wilson Police Department, EMS and Wilson Fire/Rescue large plastic bins filled with stuffed Moose that can be given to children to offer comfort during stressful situations. Moose members also gave food packages to representatives from Hope Station, the Wesley Shelter and Flynn Christian Home.

An offering was taken up during the ceremony that will be used for helping the Moose organization’s work with children. A separate donation of $205 was given for Moose charities from money raised during pre-tournament play on Tuesday. | 265-7822
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