Of the Baker City Herald

If the term shuffleboard brings forth images of white haired ladies in petal pushers dancing down the deck of a cruise ship with a frou-frou drink in hand, then you havent heard about the fast-paced activity of the table or tavern version of shuffleboard.

Garry McLin and the members of the Baker Valley Pool andamp; Shuffleboard League want to change that.

We really want to get rid of the smoky-back-room-in-a-bar image people have of us, McLin said. This is not an old-timers sport; players are getting younger and younger. And most of our teams are made up of husband and wife partners.

Our players have to show up for work the next morning; they cant be hanging around a bar all night with a beer in their hand, he explained. Our players are solid, upstanding citizens, your friends and neighbors.

They just happen to like to play shuffleboard, McLin said, and most of the tables happen to be in bars. But coffee and soft drinks are common with team players.

In addition, the league is a big supporter of charitable organizations in the county. After expenses are taken out, the sponsorship and players fees are donated to charities.

Since the league started in the late 1950s, weve donated more than $300,000 to local charities and organizations, McLin said. Last year, we donated $4,200. One of our donations was made to local firefighters, both the local brotherhood and the professional firefighters association.

McLin said $250 of the donation was used by the firefighters to purchase smoke alarms that were placed in the take-home packets given to every newborn at St. Elizabeth Health Service.

We really want to see every baby in Baker County going home with a smoke alarm and batteries for his or her nursery, he added.

We dont think we are any better than anyone else for our donations to charities, McLin said, but that it makes us feel good and a part of the community.

Other donations were made to the Baker Swim Team and wrestling teams. Both of these groups, McLin said, are under funded by the schools and are supported by members of the league.

McLin said the league plays for 19 weeks from November through April. At the end of the season there is an annual banquet and members propose charities and groups to receive donations. In 2001, 16 groups were considered and then narrowed down to 10.

We divided the money up from there, McLin said.

League organization

The league consists of 10 teams, each sponsored by a local tavern or organization. Nine of the teams are from Baker City and one team is sponsored by the Frontier in Haines. Several, like the local Eagles Lodge and Idle Hour Tavern, have two teams.

The teams sport names in keeping with the make-up of the players, McLin said. We have the Feathered Friends and the Fun Bunch from the Eagles and they do have a lot of fun. F-Troop and the Old Timers play under the sponsorship of the Idle Hour.

When there are two teams, one plays at home and one is away each week. Practice is frequent, but league play is always on Sunday afternoons.

McLin said there is a lot of work involved in keeping the 21-foot tournament-play tables in shape for use. The tables, with their laminated wood surfaces, must be kept at a stable temperature and humidity to keep the surfaces clean and even. Even so, most tables need to be resurfaced every five to six years.

No two tables are alike, they have their own personalities, the surfaces are very sensitive and may warp or bow in places along the length of the table, McLin said. One half of the table may be very fast while the other is slower. They are all different and must be played differently.

During tournament play, the surface of the table is sprinkled with a finely powdered wax. Players push a 1-pound plastic puck (weight) to the opposite end of the table across the super slick surface.

After all players on both teams have the opportunity to play, the score is tabulated. Only the player (team) with the puck nearest the end of the table without going over is scored. Terms like dead wight and hangers, are common and there are penalties for violation of the rules.

McLin said he was most impressed by the official rules for shuffleboard play followed by the league.

This is the first time in any type of sport or competition that I have taken part in has stressed courtesy as the number one rule, he said.

The opening statement of the official rules for the league addresses this. It is considered common courtesy for each player to step back from the board after he has thrown a weight, in order to give his opponent complete freedom of the board, with no interference while shooting. Players are also admonished that there is no smoking, drinking or eating while addressing the shuffleboard.

McLin added that players, especially during singles play, may walk more than a mile from one end of the table to another during an evening of play.

Even then we have a lot of fun, it really is a game of skill and it has become a husband and wife thing where both can play together on an even basis. We dont allow fist fights or loud arguments and we believe everyone in the community profits because of our league, McLin said.

Anyone interested in attending tournament shuffleboard play can attend a game at a local tavern or drop in at the Eagles Lodge on H Street. Weekly tournament play begins at 2 p.m. on Sundays and lasts for several hours.