Inside America’s Pool Rooms

Southaven Recreation Center

By: Tracy Lerma

Have you ever wondered what a perfect day would be like if everything went according to plan? Mine comprises a cup of coffee, a beautiful sunny day and another fantastic day of pool just south of Memphis, Tennessee in a town called Southaven Mississippi with a full field of fifty-one scotch doubles teams awaiting the outcome of a spectacular tournament. Walking into Southaven Rec Room which hosts seven 9-foot gold crowns that have their own room on your right and eleven 7-foot valley tables to your left, your only decision is regulation or bar box. This legendary room was home to one pocket professional Nick Vita, located at 987 Town and Country Drive, an easy turn off the interstate.  Working my way through the crowd to locate owner Andy Warren, I find him anxiously awaiting the draw for the bracket, gunning for bragging rights too. Warren is the new owner of this humble room, which has been around since 1974, purchased recently from Bill Rousey before the pandemic began. Andy and his wife Nicole took advantage of the lockdown by recovering tables and expanding restrooms to accommodate their patrons, which we all know is a must to survive. Sitting cozy at my end of the bar, Joey Luna keeps me comfortable with the southern charm and hospitality you expect from a southern pool room, with an array of beverages and a simple bar menu. What else could a girl ask for, right? Some of the South’s finest showed up for this huge double’s tournament such as Kenny Loftis, Blake Todd, and 14-year-old Blake Johnson aka” Baby Shark”, just to name a few.

Southaven Recreation Center          Photo by : Tracy Lerma

Blake Todd          Photo by : Tracy Lerma

As I’m taking notes and some pictures, you see a side of the players you normally wouldn’t in your professional tournaments, Kenny Loftis with his six-year-old daughter in tow, makes these rack crushers look human, doesn’t it?  These are the moments that remind me of when my world was captivated by billiards, my grandfather and mini me and this never-ending love of pool. This room has a worn legacy and a family feel that I am sure it will continue to fill with treasured memories like these.

This two-day tournament ends with two teams and a hunger that is filling the room with excitement! Undefeated Blake Todd and his partner Jacob Waymire face off with Jeff Strong and Brian Rutland, who were placed on the B side by Todd and Waymire. This is the grudge match we have been waiting for! As the last ball drops in favor of Todd and Waymire, you see Rutland and Strong offer extended hands of congratulations and sportsmanship. Great way to end a match. The Strong and Rutland duo were tough to beat. It seemed they flowed together effortlessly since they came through the losers’ side from the beginning of this tournament. Blake and Jacob played magnificently, and it showed well deserved win for these two guys!

As the evening carried on, the tournament over, something interesting in the Gold Crown arena got a girl out of her chair and seated in the front row. Is this a snooker ring game I am witnessing? A small group of players have gathered for a friendly game, some bragging rights, and a bit of cash before leaving the room for the weekend. The sounds, atmosphere and most definitely the smell of aspiration of the next final rack to end the night seems to pass by before we are aware.   Is it ego that brings these guys to the table? Is it the money that has some travelling to these tournaments? Or is it the venues that bring all these talented players out? I am thinking it is all the above. Packing up my things, paying my appreciation to the staff, thanking the players for allowing me to photograph them, I find myself engulfed in my thoughts. Who will I see on my next adventure? This place has only fueled my desire to find more places like this on my travels. Where will she be next week? Will she come to my town?

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Photos in starting order:  Jacob Waymire, Baby Shark, Brian Rutland, Jeff Strong, and Short Snooker game.  Photos by : Tracy Lerma