MOUNT VERNON — Throughout the last several decades, Mount Vernon has been home to some of the best pool players in the state. During the late 1990s, however, interest waned in the sport, but thanks to the efforts of a few, it is making a comeback.
One of the reasons is the establishment of a local league of the Valley National 8-Ball League Association. The VNEA is a nonprofit organization the mission of which is to promote the game of pool on coin-operated equipment. The VNEA, which was founded in 1979, has nearly 100,000 members worldwide.
“The Valley Association is in all 50 states and several other countries,” said league secretary Marc Fiorilli. “They sanction state tournaments as well as the International Pool Championships in Las Vegas.”
Taking a queue from the national level, the local VNEA league is busting at the seams as well. Thanks to Fiorilli and some other experienced players, the league is flourishing in Mount Vernon.
“My wife and I both shoot Valley pool, and as I began to shoot pool around here more and more, I noticed there were 20 to 25 players that were driving to Mansfield, Columbus or Newark to shoot in a Valley-sanctioned league,” Fiorilli said. “As driving became more costly, we sat down and tried to figure out how we could keep this in the city. We got together and we now have 10 teams shooting out of five (establishments).
“All-in-all, we have about 70 players — 55 are full time and then we have about 15 subs. It is amazing how far it has come.”
Pool play under VNEA rules is like that of normal 8-Ball. Where the difference comes is how players are ranked.
“Valley pool is basically 8-ball pool, but there is a points system, and each player is handicapped,” Fiorilli said. “We play 15 games a night with five players on each team. Each team shoots three matches a night, and we shoot home and away. People are coming out of the woodwork because they don’t want to drive.”
Because the tables must be licensed by the VNEA, it limits the number of venues the league can play. Currently, the five in Mount Vernon are Breeze Inn, King of Clubs, Flappers Bar & Grille, Dutch’s Bar & Grill and BB’s Down Under.
“The reason we are limited to the five is because Valley regulations require it to be a vendor’s license, so we used R.L. Hull & Sons Vending. Their tables are licensed with (the VNEA), so we shoot on their tables every week.”
The competition, according to Fiorilli, is fierce at the local level. And with the addition of this league, it is only getting tougher.
“It is amazing how good of shots there are,” said Fiorilli. “I moved here four years ago, and the more I got involved, the more people I recognized. I’ve been going to the state tournament and Las Vegas for 15 years, and that’s how I realized how many players were from here. I began to ask them why they are not shooting locally, and come to find out, they started traveling because there wasn’t anything locally for them. That was a big incentive (to start this chapter). ... There are too many good shots that it didn’t make sense not to represent Mount Vernon.
“This year, we have five teams going to the state tournament, which will be held in Canton in April, and we have two or three teams just from Mount Vernon going to Las Vegas.”
The league is not for men only. There are several women getting involved with several competing at the state level as well.
“We have two women’s teams, and there is a women’s team going to the state tournament, and I think there may be one going to Las Vegas as well,” said Fiorilli.
While the league is close to full capacity, Fiorilli still sees room for growth. It would take some maneuvering, but it is possible within the confines of Mount Vernon.
“We are at our limit,” said Fiorilli, “but that is only because (the VNEA) requires that you use vendor tables. A lot of places around here use their own tables, and we can’t shoot (league matches) on that. Unless we start traveling out of the city or add another night, we are at our limit. If we get enough, we could go to playing two nights a week, especially if we get some more women’s teams.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the limit as far as pool players, but we’ve reached the limit of pool tables. ... I still run into people all the time that don’t even know there is a Valley league in Mount Vernon. They are still driving to Newark or Mansfield.”
The goals now remain the same as they were when the league began. It’s just now, there is more interest and stronger competition.
“We want to have fun, learn to shoot pool and keep the money in the community,” said Fiorilli. “Those are the three big things. We have a good time. There are so many people out there that want to get better at pool, but have no where to go. ... We want to get as many people interested in pool, and bring it to the next level.”
For more information on the local VNEA league or how to participate, contact Fiorilli by e-mail at .