By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
As Kathy Van Diver is quick to point out, it is the Baker Valley Pool andamp; Shuffleboard League. And pool is her game.
Ive played pool since I was 13 years old. My mom and one of my brothers ran a recreational hall for kids in Cascade Locks on the Columbia River. We had a snooker table, a pocket pool table, ping pong, a jute box, soda machine and snacks. The place was full every day. It was great, she said.
What fun it was. Maybe thats why I like it so much now. Ive been playing in league pool for 24 years, Van Diver added. She has played pool from Portland to Cascade locks, Hood River, The Dalles, Stevenson and While Salmon, Wash.
It was the generational theme of pool that was interesting. Fathers teach sons and daughters. Mother plays on Dads team, and everyone has fun.
Some players, like Mel Hess, Oly Van Oker and P.O. Nicely were in their 80s and 90s and still played regularly in the leagues, according to league records, Van Diver said.
Pool has a very long history in Baker County. Early taverns had tables and sponsored league teams for $10 per team. Each player paid $1 a night to play big money in those days. Money left over at the end of the tournament season was given to charity. The Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland often received the donation and is still a favorite of players in the league.
A boost for business
Roy Dowdy, a long time player, insists the league plays on Wednesdays to increase revenue for the taverns.
Business was dead on Wednesday nights, he said. They needed to do something for their establishments.
Thus, the birth of the pool league.
Early day (1950s-1960s) play often saw teams drawn from the customers of the evening, and they played for a choice of a chicken or package of bacon.
The tavern names read like a history of the area with the Smoke Shop, Cattle Kates (now the Main Event), Stirrup Room (in the Geiser Grand Hotel), The Log Cabin (also called My Place and now the Brew-In-Stein), The Silver Dollar (which burned down), Circle H (now closed), Trails Inn (now the Front Street Caf), and Scotties Tavern (where Charter Cables office is located).
The Stockmens Exchange and Idle Hour are still doing business in the same locations under the same names.
Most of the tables are coin operated. Early day tables like the one Mark Dunbar has at his home played for a nickel a game. Todays tables are usually 25- or 50-cents a game. It was cheap entertainment for an evening. A dollar would buy four games, some of which would last for an hour or more as players took turns.
Dunbars table is one of the first coin operated tables and may be one of the first in Oregon. It joins his early day coin operated jute box at his home. He is a former co-owner of the Silver Dollar.
Van Diver stresses that although most of the leagues practice on Tuesdays and play on Wednesdays is in taverns, sodas and coffee are the drinks of choice of many of the players.
There are many people who do not drink who play pool, Van Diver said. Its friends getting together, husbands and wives, boy friends/girl friends out to have an evening of fun have dinner, talk to friends and enjoy playing a little pool.
She said designated drivers were easy to find on league nights as many of the players didnt drink at all. She added that many of the taverns will call a cab for a patron they believe is not able to drive and will pay for the cab in town. She herself is a relief driver for Baker Cab Company and often takes people home who have walked to the businesses and want a ride home on cold nights.
Women attracted to game
She said women have become attracted to the game because it is a game of pure skill no luck, no physical strength. Only skill with a slender pool stick. Women often are the best players on a team and some men will refuse to play with them.
We have men who will play with the ladies on their teams, but not against them, Van Diver said.
Modern league sponsorship is $25 per team with each play contributing $3 a night. Two dollars are returned to the league and $1 goes to the bartender of the tavern. Since few of the players are drinking alcohol, the bartenders often receive fewer tips on league nights. The $1 helps compensate them.
Donations part of league
Van Diver said she checked league records back to the 1970s and believes Garry McLins estimate of $300,000 donated to charities over the years is a little high. McLin has been president of the Pool andamp; Shuffleboard League for the past three years.
It was probably closer to $125,000, she added. Early revenues from sponsorships and players was lower that todays fees but at the end of league play, the money is still donated to charities and local organizations.