Taking their cue
Women find success in area pool rooms
It's Tuesday night, and Nicolette Ducey is where she likes to be. She goes for the black ball, standing on tiptoe, leaning forward, leveling her eyes on the ball. She shoots. And misses.
Her turn comes around again. Ducey scrunches her forehead in concentration. Again she steadies her aim. There is no perception of movement, save for the twinkle of her diamond earrings. She shoots. And makes it.
The victor, she smiles and shakes hands with the man she's played against.
He's a good sport.
But every once in a while, when the women play pool against the men, things don't go as well.
Especially when the women win.
Just the previous week, Lansing resident Keleigh Scheuermann played against a man, one who clearly wasn't happy about losing to her.
"I had six balls on the table, he only had one," Scheuermann said. "I just kept hiding the cue ball so that he couldn't get to his one ball."
She repeated that scenario three times, and finally made her shots, clearing the table.
"As I walked over to him to shake hands, he takes his pool stick and breaks it across his knee," Scheuermann said.
He threw his stick in the trash. Later he approached Scheuermann.
"He walked over and says, 'I shouldn't have done that,'" Scheuermann said. "He shook my hand and walked off."
Ducey, Scheuermann, along with Lin Davis and Terry Mitchener, make up a prize-wining women's pool team. They named their group "4 Squaws," because of the Native American heritage of two of the members. Terry is 1/4 Chippewa and Keleigh is 1/32 Seneca.
The women play every Tuesday and Wednesday night at Side Pockets in Bonner Springs. And their various competitions take them to cities in Kansas, as well as to an annual tournament in Las Vegas.
They play in leagues two or three times a week, and, particularly before tournaments, practice at home, as well.
The group's name can change from year to year. For instance, last year it was "Ball Bust Hers." But whatever the name, the women agree, they enjoy what they're doing. And they admit that, occasionally, men don't appreciate what they're doing.
After finishing a game of pool with the guys last Tuesday, Joe Anderson, who lives in Mission, said he occasionally plays pool against women, including the 4 Squaws.
"It's not that I don't like playing pool with women," Anderson said. "It's that there are few and far enough women in between to be competitive. I don't mind playing competitive women."
Chris Putthoff, a 28-year-old Tonganoxie man who plays pool, said he's impressed with this four-woman team.
At the Kansas City area tournaments, generally, about six women compete, Putthoff said. Those are the ones he doesn't mind playing against.
That's different from casual players who frequent the pool halls - the ones who are more of an interruption to the serious pool players.
"Some of these women that are just drinking and having fun get annoying - and that goes for men too," Putthoff said.
Worth the drive
Of the four-team members, Davis drives the farthest.
She works for Sprint Nextel out of her home in Oak Grove, Mo., and makes the 48-mile drive to Side Pockets at least two nights a week. But she doesn't mind the drive.
Davis, who is 52, started playing pool nine years ago.
"I never played at all before that," she said. "I wanted to get out of the house."
She joined the women's pool team, which competes through the Valley National 8-Ball League Association. VNEA's members include men, women and junior players. Each year an international tournament is held in Las Vegas.
"VNEA is designed for new people to come in," Davis said, noting the organization gives handicaps to new players.
"I did pretty well," Lin said of her past nine years playing pool. "But I've got a lot to learn. I'm still learning."
That's what she likes about playing at Side Pockets - other players, men and women, are willing to help.
"If I'm struggling with a specific type of shot you can ask someone and they'll take you over to another table and work with you," Davis said.
Along with the team's new name is the need to print new T-shirts - this time with the "4 Squaws" logo. There's a slight drawback to changing names.
"And here I've got all these 'Ball Bust Hers' T-shirts at home," Davis said with a chuckle.
For 35-year-old Nicolette Ducey, pool is a part of her marriage, as well as her social life. She met her husband of two years, Scott Ducey, playing pool. The couple live in Bonner Springs, within walking distance of Side Pockets.
Nicolette grew up in Germany and works as a technician in a dental laboratory. Until she moved to the United States nine years ago she'd never heard of pool. Now she's been playing for eight years. Later, when she moved from North Carolina to Olathe, she joined the women's team.
"The pool team gave me a way to meet people," Nicolette said.
Scott Ducey, who grew up in Basehor, plays pool alongside his wife. For him, pool with "the girls" bears little difference from pool with his buddies.
"The girls are like playing with the fellows. They give it back like we do. They come to win. We come to win," Scott said. "Just enjoying the spirit of competition."
But the couple jokes about the "what-if" possibility of hard feelings incurred during a competitive run at the pool table.
"I'm used to it," Scott said with a grin. "We have a very comfortable couch."
The next generation
Side Pockets is a vast chasm of dozens of pool tables, a restaurant and bar, televisions tuned to sports channels, and music. It's noisy enough to feel homey, yet quiet enough to hear the click of pool balls and the quiet rumble as they roll into the pockets.
Keleigh Scheuermann wraps up a game. At 40, she's been playing pool all her life. She learned to play in her parents' bar in Crescent, Iowa.
Keleigh and her husband, Gary Scheuermann, recently moved from Omaha, Neb., to Lansing because of his work at Nebraska Furniture Mart. At home, Scheuermann focuses her time and creativity on making pottery, which she plans to sell.
Like her teammates, Keleigh has a high ranking in their pool league. She explained she, Ducey and Davis are 8s, and Mitchener is a 9.
Keleigh explained, if those numbers were compared to a school's grading scale of A, B, C, D and F, the 8 and 9 would be a B and a B+.
Gary's not intimidated by his wife's prowess at pool playing. Nor is he as involved with the sport as she is.
"I play a little bit but not like she does," Gary said.
He doesn't mind his wife's devotion to pool though.
"I knew it going into our marriage," Gary said, smiling.
Now, there's another pool aficionado in the family.
The couple's son, 11-year-old Daniel, a sixth-grader at Lansing Middle School, inherited his mother's fondness for the game.
Daniel brings his own cue to Side Pockets early in the evenings when Keleigh plays.
"He's beat his mom a couple of times," Gary said.
All in the family
Terry Mitchener met her husband, Larry Mitchener, in 1988 in - surprise - a pool hall - Kobi's Bar and Grill in Bonner Springs.
Terry played pool before they met, but nothing like she does now. That's because her husband is her teacher.
Her success boils down to two strengths - banking and breaking.
"You just need to know angles to cut them all this way, to bank the ball this way," Terry said. "And you want strength on your break."
She puts her hands over her heart and said, modestly smiling, "And I do break well, if I have to say it myself."
Terry is all business with a cue in hand. She walks swiftly around the table, eyeballing the shots. She spots the best, quickly leans over the table, takes aim. She makes it. Several shots later the 8-ball rolls for the pocket. There's the shake of hands with her competitor. Her smile. She updates the score card. The game goes on.
Larry said his wife is probably the best female pool player in the Kansas City area.
"She breaks better than most men in the league," Larry said. "She usually pockets a ball in the break and spreads the balls out really good."
Larry said, in their league no matter which ball is pocketed on the break, the shooter still can survey the table and call stripes or solids.
"That's why it's important to make something on the break," Larry said. "You can look it over and decide if you want to go for stripes or solids."
Larry and Terry live in Bonner Springs. Terry (Rogers) grew up between Basehor and Linwood.
Terry isn't Larry's only star pupil. Their 13-year-old grandson, Taylor Anderson, Bonner Springs, already is winning tournaments.
Larry started teaching Taylor when he was still a toddler.
They'd stand Taylor up on a chair next to the pool table, set a couple of balls near the pockets at the other end and let him practice rolling balls into them.
Now there's another grandson to instruct, 2-year-old Jerron Lightfoot, who has his own pool cue.
Terry Anderson, Taylor and Jerron's mother, said pool halls should have a better reputation.
"A lot of people get the thought that it's an icky old bar," said Anderson. She plays on a team with her stepfather, Larry Mitchener, her son, Taylor, and her fiance, Jason Lightfoot. "But it's not, it's more family-oriented."
In fact, their team name is "All in the Family."
And Terry Anderson agreed with her mother's teammates that when men and women play pool together, sometimes it's a good combination and sometimes it's not.
"A lot of men who play against a woman that's really good get intimidated," Anderson said.
Her mother, Terry Mitchener, agreed. Usually, she said, the men are as easy to get along with as the women. But there are exceptions.
"I've had guys not want to shake my hand because they're so mad," Mitchener said.
She's seen men break their pool cues by slamming them onto the floor or the side of the table.
And occasionally they'll show their frustration with their hands - by raking the balls off the table.
"They miss a shot they think they should have made, instead of letting the other guy win, they just take their hand and move all the balls - some of them can go flying off the table," Mitchener said.
It's different with the women, Mitchener said.
"I've never seen a woman do that, it's always a guy - isn't that funny," Mitchener said, smiling. "Us women are more like, 'Oh well, there's always another game.'"