The Players

The Players

The Players

The days of the smoke-filled pool hall full of crusty hustlers is over. Today, pool is one of the fastest-growing sports for people of all ages and abilities. There are several leagues in Birmingham offering the opportunity to compete on teams, but the largest and most important is the Birmingham chapter of the American Pool players Association (APA).

“APA is different from a lot of the other leagues in that it’s a social league,” says Skip Lassiter, Birmingham APA league operator. “It’s about getting out and meeting with your friends and co-workers and your family and getting to shoot some pool, eating and drinking and cutting up with each other. There is a lot of competitive play that goes on, as well.”

Matches are structured so that low-skilled newcomers can compete with highly skilled players. This allows more people to come out and have a good time and, with over 320 teams playing each night of the week, it’s easy to find some interesting people to shoot the breeze with, like these regulars at Poppa G’s.

Allison Shratter

At first glance, Allison Shratter looks completely out of place, playing on a team with a bunch of men over twice her age. However, the 26-year-old was playing so much pool at Poppa G’s that she accepted a job at the Pelham pool hall because “they needed some help so I said , ‘I’m here anyway.’”

Shratter started playing on APA teams a couple of years ago but joined her current team after helping to defeat them in the city tournament last year. A lower-ranked player, Shratter only needed to win two games to her opponent’s five, but early on in the match, she says, nothing went right.

“We were playing eight-ball, and I could not make a ball for the first two or three racks,” Shratter says. “All of a sudden something clicked and I won the next two racks, which was all I needed to win. They were not very happy about that. But later, they needed a (lower ranked) player and they said, ‘What about that girl who beat us?’”

Shratter competes in league play at Bumpers on Sunday and Poppa G’s on Tuesday. She prefers to play nine-ball because she says, “I don’t have to make a decision.” To have a good, lower-ranked player that can  be counted on under pressure, like Shratter, is a good weapon to have on a team. However, she says they really like having her for another reason.

“They like to hit on young girls,” Shratter says, half joking.

Bill Price

Hovering over a corner table of Poppa G’s on a December night is retired State Farm agent Bill Price. The Clanton resident is one of the most respected men in the joint, not only for his playing ability but for his coaching. He’s always standing close by to give a little advice, explain how to approach a shot or give encouragement to a teammate, all in a measured, gentlemanly tone.

Now in his mid-60s, Price was first introduced to the game of pool as a young boy in the small Chilton County town of Thorsby.  “When I was 12, we lived in the guy’s house who owned the pool hall, and it was my job to watch the pool hall when he went to lunch,” Price says.

“Of course, you couldn’t play unless you had a parent there with you,” Price adds. “My mother would sometimes go up there with me on Saturdays. She was the only woman in the pool hall.”

From the time he was 18 until his mid-20s, Price played some semi-regular pool in joints in and around Clanton during a time when he says the town was straight out of American Graffiti. “You had the guys hanging around with the cut-off t-shirts with the cigarettes in the sleeves,” he says.

About six year ago, Price started playing again after over 30 years away from the game. He started playing with a friend at a place in Thorsby. However, once it closed, Price learned about the league play at Poppa G’s and started driving up I-65 to check things out. Last year, Price led a team that won the city championship, qualifying them for the national tournament in Las Vegas. Under his leadership, they finished ninth out of 400 teams.

“Some of the people on that team never had flown before, and no one on the team had gone out to Vegas but me,” Price says. “It was like taking a bunch of kids out there who had never been anywhere.”

Don Ward

New Orleans native and retired BellSouth employee Don Ward is a new regular on the pool league scene. Until a decade ago, Ward’s sport of choice was golf. However, after a thumb injury forced him to reevaluate, he took up pool. “I just like competition and I fell in love with pool,” he says.

Unlike a lot of the people in the room, Ward had never played pool at all growing up. “I went in some pool halls as a kid but I didn’t play” Ward says. “Back in those days, when you walked in a pool hall it was the road warrior in there. You didn’t play, you just watched.”

These days, Ward plays in APA league play throughout the week and gets most of his practice in at Poppa G’s. “I spent a lot of money building a pool room in my house but I really don’t use it,” he says.

A great guy with a warm personality and good sense of humor, Ward isn’t too proud to talk about a mistake or two he’s made in some of his more memorable matches. For instance, there was an unforgettable moment in the city tournament when, with victory in sight, things took a bizarre turn.

“This guy made a couple of bad shots, and I had two balls to make,” Ward says. “I’m down to this one ball, and it’s like a straight-in shot, and everything started going through my mind like, ‘You’re fixing to win this for your team.’ I shot and missed my ball. It went around the corner, come around here, hit the eight-ball and knocked it in the hole. I had the game won, but it was like boom-boom and I’m out.”

One Response to “The Players”

  1. Nice article but I noticed that Birmingham APA’s contact information was left out. For anyone interested in joining a team, or putting together a team of their own family, friends, and co-workers, please visit our website, They can also contact our league office by phone, 205-621-4199, or by email, [email protected]. All amateurs are welcome so come join the fun!

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