On a Pool Prodigy

Pop McGinnis ran the best barbershop in town. All the citizens of Honesdale, PA, said so. One of the main reasons his place on South Main Street in town was so popular with the locals was that McGinnis moved in two billiards tables for his waiting clients to pass the time until their turns in his chair. In a time and place where pool halls were déclassé, McGinnis’s Barbershop allowed local patrons to use the excuse that, “We were only in there to get a haircut.” No wonder most of the men in town wore short haircuts.

Since it was a family place, McGinnis’s kids ran around both patrons and pool tables. One of his kids, the 7-year-old, took a liking to the pool tables. So, McGinnis got a fruit crate so his kid could reach the table and play a game every so often. Pretty soon, it became obvious that McGinnis’s progeny could play the game pretty well. The proud poppa even began offering prize money for anyone who could beat the prodigy. Soon, there were no takers. The kid was beating everyone who came into the barbershop.

McGinnis entered the child into pool tournaments, but some people balked at that idea. Besides the social stigma associated with the game, many tournaments said that someone under the age of 13 had no business playing in a pool competition no matter the participant’s skill level.

Several types of pool and billiards games and tournaments remain popular in the UK even today, but the popularity of the sport in the US has waned dramatically in the past 80 years. In the United States today, pool—straight pool, not 8-Ball or 9-Ball—is not played much, but the sport was one of the most popular in the country in the middle part of the 20th Century. Daily newspaper columns and even sports radio shows were dedicated to the sport at that time.

In straight pool, the player calls the ball to be sunk no matter if it is stripes or solids. The object is create runs of sunk balls. As long as you could sink the balls, you could shoot. McGinnis’s kid often had runs of 40 or more before the age of 10. By 13, McGinnis took the child on exhibitions when tournaments would not allow someone so young to enter their competition.

And the kid kept winning despite all obstacles. Yet, because of the age thing, people often refused to play or even watch someone who clearly had an amazing talent for the sport. That didn’t deter the youngster from loving the sport and continually becoming better and better at it. Sportswriters of the day penned stories that said the place for someone like that was in the classroom or even in the home and not in pool halls, playing (and beating) men several times older.

And that was too bad, really.

Because Ruth McGinnis wasn’t simply a good pool player for her age; she was one of the best straight pool players who ever lived.

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