Marc Ponzio is a crokinole player and promoter who runs the Brooklyn Crokinole Club. He attended the 2022 US Open Doubles Crokinole Championship and has documented his story below.
The US Open 2022 and my adventure through this strange uncharted territory started out much like Gilligan’s Island. “A three hour tour.” Well at least it was supposed to be a 3 hour drive up to Voorheesville, NY (right outside Albany). I was lucky enough to get out of work a few hours early that Friday and start the journey. I was particularly excited to compete in my first NCA approved crokinole tournament, and to top it off my good friend David Jefferson was my partner for the event.
There was excitement but also a good amount of nervous energy. Would everyone be really polished-excellent players? Would I be the only novice in attendance? Would I even have a chance? This was all percolating in my head and my stomach for about 3 hours as I sloooooowly battled NYC traffic trying desperately to get out of the city and onto the highway headed north towards Albany.
I had seen pictures from previous events, where there was a rowdy bunch of guys, lots of righteous beards (Chet, Jason, and everyone else - you know who you are) and unfamiliar faces, all gathered together in a basement hall of the American Legion excited to be a part of the best crokinole event on US soil.
I had never competed in an actual NCA approved Crokinole tournament before. Sure I’ve hosted a few small “tournaments”, but they were really just 8-10 people in a room playing crokinole because they love the game. I knew that at least a few of the teams in attendance were, and still are, nationally ranked competitors. Would I be able to keep up? Could I even win? Would I be eliminated? Where was my partner, he was supposed to arrive before me?
The Meet and Greet
I pulled up to the Indian Ladder Farms to find a quaint farmhouse building sitting in a giant field just off a dirt road (probably made by an actual tractor) next to a small paved country road. I parked my car up against a parking line in a dirt lot where many of the other cars were already lazily parked in a row. I walked up to an outdoor seating area indistinguishable from any BBQ ever on US soil. There were loads of strangers hanging around in groups of 3 or 4, plenty of beer and plenty of happy faces. Wooden tables stood outside under the dying sun on a nice hot spring day.
I started to pick out the few faces I recognized, if only from the pictures. First, I saw Ray Beierling, then Jeremy Tracey, I found Jason Molloy and Ron Langill, and then Nick Ozmore just casually walked by. Clearly the who's who of crokinole on the East Coast and several of the better known Canadian players were in attendance.
I locked onto Jason Molloy, our esteemed host. There is something about him. He has an almost boyish charismatic smile that just puts you at ease. He is one of the most genuinely friendly people I’ve met in a long time. You can’t help but feel comfortable around him. It might have been how well he seemed to know everyone, maybe he is just a really nice guy, but he seemed to be effortlessly running the place. He always had a private joke or a funny word for everyone he saw. He brought me into the event with a firm handshake and a few solid introductions. Notably there was Uncle Dwight, Chet Bothke, and at least 2 other guys named Jason other than Jason Molloy himself. He also introduced me to his brother Joshua Molloy (from Extra Pint Texas), Ron Langill and many more. It was a dizzying introduction to people who until that moment existed only on CrokinoleCentre videos for me.
I was still in my work clothes, a button down shirt and pants, that couldn’t have been any less appropriate for the venue. Tracey commented that I “Looked like a doctor!” and we both laughed.
I made the rounds, met many of the people who I had been speaking with online for months but didn’t actually know in person. I finally found my partner who was waylaid by a few last minute errands that took him an hour off course. We settled in and tried to get into a few games. I bought a t-shirt for the US open. We mostly were just taking in the whole experience. It was a pleasant calm, kinda like those moments just before the sunrise. You know you’re in for a treat and somehow there is a bit of magic even before the whole fireworks show starts.
The evening ended with a “hole survivor” competition. By that point, I was so tired from a full day of work, a long drive, and the excitement of meeting everyone, that I decided to spectate for the hole survivor tournament. In reality, I don’t think I could have hit more than 1-2 twenties at that point anyway.
The final table for the hole survivor ended in a competition between Ray Beierling, Jeremy Tracey, and Ron Langil. Ray went on to win the competition which was very well done. Watching players hit upwards of 10 straight 20s on command, round after round, after round was humbling to say the least.
I felt a bit like Rocky next to Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago… seriously outmatched on all fronts. After a few hopeful and happy goodbyes I ended up finishing off the night by checking into my hotel.
Saturday ... almost
I couldn’t sleep Friday night. I was just too excited at the thought of an entire day of crokinole and it was making my mind turn like the gears of a watch. I knew the majority of it would be the seeding/qualifying tournament with the shorter elimination rounds after. I wanted to get into the Legion early and see the lay of the land. I wanted to meet everyone else I hadn’t met including “Magic” Mike McTague and a few others who I knew would be there. I tried to get up and get in early. But then bacon happened.
It turns out that the Hampton Inn on Western Ave makes bacon as a part of their Saturday morning Breakfast buffet. Let me-rephrase that. They don’t just “make bacon.” They call their most senior bacon chef with the cumulative knowledge of over 40 years of crafting, cutting, seasoning, and selecting the best cuts of bacon to ply his craft. He gets in early, sets up the kitchen, and does nothing else besides make the most perfect bacon you have ever tasted for the entirety of his day.
Well, no not really, but it felt like that. So, entirely too much bacon later ...
I arrived at the legion to find a Scout Troop clogging up the driveway? I was so confused.
Just to paint the picture a little… I’m in a strange town, looking for a building I’ve never been to and my GPS is behaving like a snotty 5-year-old child. Despite my GPS not really being helpful, I narrowed it down to 3 buildings which were likely. One of them was the Voorheesville Village Building, which looks very much like a suitable square brick building where a tournament might be held. The other two were the actual Legion building where the events would be held, though I clearly didn’t realize it, and there was a minimally marked police/ambulance building that looked like it might be a good place to hold a tournament.
Anyway, I pulled into the Legion parking lot and it was absolutely packed with cars and there were scores of people dressed something like boy scouts milling around in groups. I thought there was no way I was in the right place… none of them even looked remotely like they were there for Crokinole. After circling the building a few times and frantically texting Jason that I didn’t know where to park I settled on parking next to the police station which looked empty enough that it wouldn’t matter.
It turns out I was more or less right on all counts. The “scouts” were preparing as part of a memorial day event and they were just meeting at the legion. No disrespect to anyone in the armed forces, my father included, but the uniforms and the number of them sorta threw me off. They were gone within 20 minutes however.
So, I got into the legion and the first person I met was “Magic” Mike McTague. He rather sheepishly greeted me and explained that he has been following along in the BCC and enjoyed our videos. Pleasant guy.
Just inside the door we each received a “players package” which included a tumbler with a US Open 2022 logo, a “hammer” token, and a score card/schedule indicating which teams we were playing against for the seeding tournament.
The team names require a special note here because they are unique and beyond suggestive. With such entries as the “Hole Bangers”, the “Finger Blasters”, the “Flufflier Unicorns”, the “Pole Dancers”, team “Ron Jeremy”, and our team which was possibly the tamest of all, the “City Flickers”. Next year we will have to up our ante and make something much more…well let’s just say…”more”. I guess when you put a bunch of men and women together in a basement with alcohol, for a competitive tournament you get a little risque. It all adds to the unique flavor of this particular event.
The competitors themselves hail from across the country and over the border into Canada. There were teams from Texas, South Carolina, New York (Brooklyn), New York (Voorheesville), New York (Southern Tier NY - it’s a regionalism), Canada, New Hampshire and I’m sure I’m missing a bunch more. There were a total of 22 teams there to compete. The two Canadian ringer teams included “Protractor and Angles” (Jason and Ray Beierling respectively) and team “Ron Jeremy” consisting of none other than Ron Langill and Jeremy Tracey.
I found my way down to the basement and first set eyes upon the hallowed arena where battle was set to begin shortly. There were 10 tables set up with numbers suspended on small plastic flags hanging from the ceiling centered over each table. Each table had a Tracey board, anything from a traditional to a Grey Rock all with powder and each had a mason jar for collecting 20s.
The mason jars were a unique touch. When you score a 20 and drop it into a regular acrylic 20 holder that rides the rail, the sound is more of a “clunk” as the 20 drops to the bottom. It’s utterly rewarding and music to my ears but, when you drop a disc into a mason jar the sound is more of a refreshing “ting” sound. It resonates, it’s somehow more crisp and musical. It was a fitting celebration to accompany any 20.
As for the rest of the room, there was a bar in the back, one wall lined with raffle merchandise, regular merchandise for purchase, a large printed poster-board bracket (not for use until after the seeding event), and a small table for the Jackpot Games entries. For anyone unfamiliar, the jackpot games are a sort of skill challenge that comes with a small monetary reward. You could buy into any one or all of the challenges and if you perform the challenge properly you win the pot. There were challenges for sinking all 6 of your pieces as 20s, each player hitting a 20 on 2 consecutive shots around the table, and getting an angle-in shot from the 5 point zone. I entered all of them immediately.
David and I entered the seeding tournament not knowing what to expect. We knew we had 9 matches and that we couldn’t be eliminated but the big question was how well would we do? We had a clean sweep for our first match 8 to 0 for the City Flickers. This boosted our spirits nicely, getting us started. Our early victory was only matched by our next 2 immediate and subsequent failures. We lost, 6 to 2 to team “Stay Off My Yard”. Then we lost narrowly (5 to 3) to team “Krackenators”, who I might add made it to the semi-finals. We went on to have a generally winning record with 5 wins (2 of them clean sweeps) 2 ties, and 2 losses. We ended up seeding 5th overall for the tournament. I was very proud of having come out in the top of the pack for our first event.
Now, this is sadly where the wheels fell off the cart… then it caught fire… fell off a cliff … landed on a church... full of puppies. In our very first match we went up against the New Hampshire team. David and I both had one of those terrible games where you can’t get anything right. Professionally I believe it’s known as “quicksand.” Between the two of us we had only two 20s the entire match. It was a miserable and abrupt end to what had been a promising start.
But, I’m still proud we showed up, happy we did as well as we did, and I am devoted to doing better next year. We shall return to Indian Ladder Farms and the American Legion in 2023!
Good Karma Interlude
Every year Jeremy Tracey makes a board for the US Open, and this year was no different. The board sported a red bullseye center, a classy maple surface standing in for white, and a deep blue gutter, rounding out the entire complement of red, white and blue. The board is typically raffled off to the attendees and you better believe I bought a raffle ticket. I know a few people who bought more than 1 ticket in hopes of getting that particular board.
At the tournament, I met a man named Tom Sherer who was just having the time of his life playing crokinole. After talking to him a bit, getting to hear his story, and getting him to join my club (of course), he explained that he didn’t even have a board. He said that he was there to partner with his brother-in-law who had the board he played on. He could only play when his brother came to visit him in Pittsburgh, so he didn’t get to play often but he loved the game.
When the board raffle came up just before the finals, I didn’t win the board. But, you can guess who did. I can’t think of a better, more deserving person to win. I couldn’t even be a little bit jealous of him. He was probably one of the only few people in the event who didn’t own or have access to a board. Most of the other people who had bought a ticket were probably hoping to bring home their 2nd or 3rd board if they won that raffle, myself included. Congratulations to Tom and I believe it was just great Karma that he took that particular win, well done!
So, we didn’t make it to the finals, but the semi final matches were intense. Magic Mike and Jason went up against team Protractor and Angles. It was a high stakes match where the nationally ranked Canadian team was perhaps favored? Mike and Jason pulled out to an incredible lead and then the Canadians started to close the gap. The tension was mounting as Ray and Jason Beierling seemed to come back stronger and stronger. But, the Americans emerged victorious. Giving the Americans in the crowd hope that the 2022 US Open might be won by a US team.
I can’t say I caught much of the other semi-final match, but I did try to check in once in a while. That match was team Ron Jeremy vs the Krackenators (one of the teams that managed to beat us in the qualifiers). I do know that despite their best efforts the Krackenators were taken down fairly definitively. So, the finals would be Magic Mike McTague and Jason Molloy (the man responsible for this great event) vs. Ron Langill and Jeremy Tracey.
Team Irish steel took the field against team Ron Jeremy. It was a race to 12, strangely not an odd number, but that ultimately didn’t end up being an issue. The Canadians rocketed out to a humbling 6-0 lead over our heros. But the fighting Irish would not give up so quickly. They rallied late and soon the score was 11 to 7 still in team Ron Jeremy’s favor, but Irish Steel had 2 wins worth of steam and momentum. After a grueling full hour long competition, under the bright lights, team Ron Jeremy took the win. It was a match to remember and an event to remember. The first US Open that brought people together after a time when meeting in public had been damn near illegal for almost 2 years now.
This whole event represents 2 things to me. First, the US has fully adopted crokinole as a game we love. Sorry Canada, it’s ours now! You can still play it, you certainly started it, but it’s ours now too! And frankly, I’m all in. I couldn’t be happier about this. Second, despite the fact that it is a competition with patriotic rivals (US vs. Canadians), tons of booing and cheering, and even some hissing, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a friendlier competition. Crokinole continues to bring people together in the best ways, from across the border and beyond. Personally, I can’t wait for the next US Open!
Marc M. Ponzio D.O.
Brooklyn Crokinole Club