Right on cue: Scenes from the billiards' U.S. Junior Championships

The Billiards Congress of America held its U.S. Junior Championships last week in Tucson, and most of you missed it. I know how you people are: "Oh, it's July, and it's only 107 degrees; let's go for a walk." Or, "Wow, look at all that lightning; let's set up our photographic equipment and play Ansel Adams." Instead, you could have been in the pool hall in the bowels of the new, ultra-sanitary University of Arizona Student Union, watching the pulse-pounding action.

Some of you read the word "pool" and you get all stereotypical in your head. Well, be it known that the players in this tournament represented the entire spectrum of the American demographic. Except there weren't any black kids. Or Asians. Or Hispanics.

Well, there was this one kid who had a Hispanic last name, but he was from Milwaukee, which made me think that maybe his grandpa had been a Portagee fisherman who jumped ship in the St. Lawrence Seaway or something.

Anyway, it really was amazing. I don't know how those kids do it. The pressure was incredible. The only way it could be more excruciating for them is if they were wearing a leotard, standing on a balance beam, and some sadistic guy was yelling at them in Romanian.

Pool is like golf; it's one of those sports you can only enjoy if you're at one end or the other of the bell curve. If you suck at golf, you can go out and play a really crappy round, shoot 120, then go in the clubhouse and say, "Oh man, you should've seen this shot I had on 14."

But then, if you start getting better, and the good shots start becoming more frequent (although by no means the norm), it starts getting really frustrating. You want to make good shots all of the time, not just occasionally, and that actually puts pressure on you, and the good shots come even less frequently. You then have two options: You either fight through it and become incrementally better over an extended period of time, or you go back to sucking at it and enjoying your infrequent flashes of excellence.

At the tournament, they played 9-Ball, in which the balls are arranged in a 1-2-3-2-1 diamond shape for the break. Any balls hit in on the break stay in, and then the players have to hit the rest in, in numerical order. If any player scratches (hits the cue ball in, etc.), the other player gets to place the cue ball anywhere on the table for the next shot. This is a huge advantage.

The players were really good, but not perfect (and therefore boring) like the pros on TV. My favorite was this little 4-foot-11 kid named Anna from Albuquerque, who lost in the finals for the second straight year. I asked her how she started playing pool, and she said that her dad had opened a pool hall. I wonder what would have happened if he had opened a mental institution. Would she have become a Republican? A local girl, Katrina Kidd, who is 12 years old and attends Magee Middle School, finished a spectacular seventh in the girls' tournament.

The best part of the entire tournament took place in the bleachers that had been set up for the spectators. Right in the middle of the Open Division championship match, before a packed house, some idiot's cell phone rang. And it was a loud, fruity-ass ring, at that. The guy took his time taking the phone out of its holster (and aren't we all just soooo impressed by guys who wear their phones on their belts?), and it rang twice. He flipped it open, looked at who was calling, then pressed some button so the phone would shut up.

I figured, "That sucks, but maybe he just forgot to turn his phone off. We should give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose."

Not two minutes later, the phone rang again. Same fruity-ass ring, same slow reaction time, but this time, he actually started talking on the phone! A couple people shushed him, but he frowned and kept talking. Then, one of the kids who was playing in the match (for the national championship!) walked over and said, really politely, "Could you please stop doing that?"

The guy looked up and said, "It's an important call, and I don't want to go outside, because I'll lose my seat."

The kid asked again, and the guy just waved him off, dismissively. Just then, a bunch of other kids who had lost in the earlier rounds, but had stayed around to watch the finals, saw several days' worth of frustration come bubbling forth as they just started beating the guy, some with their fists, some with their pool cues. A few parents jumped into the fray, and not all were trying to break it up. And, in a really popular move, the head of the Student Union took his own sweet time calling the police.

Actually, the last part of that story didn't happen, but it would have been way cool if it had.