A Toledo billiards team that almost wasn't formed has qualified for the sport's most prestigious tournament in its first year together.
The Sports Zone team, which is sponsored by a bar on Sylvania Avenue in Toledo, has qualified for the American Poolplayers Association national tournament that begins Aug. 23 in Las Vegas. The eight-man team will compete in the APA National Team Championship open eight-ball tournament at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.
Team captain Doug Creswell said this is the first year the Sports Zone team has played together.
"I had to beg three of them to play with me," Creswell said. "I think they're kind of glad they did now."
The Sports Zone members are: Creswell, Kenny Nemire, Damien Fine, Rick Urbanski, Bobby Brown, Tree Brown, Jennifer Hernes and Skip Williams.
Nemire is the only member of the team who has previously played in the Las Vegas tournament. Nemire took second in the APA doubles tournament in 2002.
Sports Zone won an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas including air fare and free boarding at the Riviera.
"Basically it is the creme de la creme of pool," Creswell said. "It's the elite tournament for amateur pool players to qualify for."
Creswell said an estimated 600 teams from the United States and Canada will compete in the tournament.
"It's quite an impressive tournament," he said. "This is what you are playing pool for."
The prize fund for the tournament is $600,000 and the winning team will take home $25,000.
The Sports Zone team plays in the Bud Light Saturday afternoon league, which is comprised of 15 teams. The league is sanctioned by the APA.
The team qualified for the national tournament by winning a 64-team tournament in Findlay last May. Sports Zone went 10-0 in the double elimination tournament.
"It was kind of weird because our Saturday team played the Sports Zone Thursday team in the finals," Creswell said.
He said three of the players - himself, Nemire and Fine - are members of both teams. Therefore the three were not allowed to play for either team in the finals.
"A couple matches came down to the final player," Creswell said of the tournament. "It came down to our best player winning for us."
Creswell said Brown performed particularly well in the tournament.
"He is a very strong player. He's probably one of the top players in the city," Creswell said.
A handicap point system is used in APA competition. Players are assigned a point ranking. The lowest ranking is a two and is only used for women. The lowest ranking for males is a three. The highest rank is seven.
The rankings indicate the number of games a player must win to take a match. For example, if a No. 3 ranked player plays a No. 4, the higher ranked player must win four games before the opponent wins three.
Each team is allowed to use five players who can combine for no more than 23 total points.
The members of the Sports Zone team have the following rankings: Creswell (five), Nemire (six), Fine (five), Urbanski (six), Bobby Brown (seven), Tree Brown (two) and Hernes (three).
"My strategy is putting in the players that are shooting the best that day," Creswell said.
He said he also determines how players on the opposing team have been performing and matches up accordingly.
The players on the Sports Zone team range in age from 24 to 45.
Creswell, 38, said he took up the sport about six years ago as a substitute for competitive sports that he could no longer play.
"The older I got, the body just couldn't handle softball anymore," he said. "Contact sports demand a lot of the body. So that's why you take up golf and pool."
Now that he has reached a championship level in billiards, Creswell and his teammates have their eyes on the ultimate title."Our goal is to go out there to win the whole thing," he said.
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