Just like many other places on campus, the Billiards & Games Room is rich with history. You might be surprised to learn that:
- How does the Billiards & Games Room fit into the Big Picture at University of Michigan?
- What are some interesting points of pool hall history?
- Does the Billiards Room have any long-standing traditions?
- Is it true that alcohol and smoking were once permitted, making it a big student hang out?
- Does the Billiards Room have any legends?
- What kinds of programs does the Billiards Room offer?
- Does the Billiards Room host any other special events?
How does the Billiards & Games Room fit into the Big Picture at University of Michigan?
The Billiards Room has one permanent manager, one part-time Graduate Intern, and a team of about 12-15 undergraduate work-study students. Betsy Sundholm held the position of manager from 1993 to 2016. Betsy's Billiards Room duties included recruitment, training, and supervision of the managing Graduate Intern, financial direction and oversight, coordination of table and equipment upkeep,and coordination of recreational programs for University of Michigan Students. In this role, Betsy was the advisor for the Billiards, Chess, Foosball, Scrabble, and Table Tennis Clubs. E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are some interesting points of pool hall history?
The Billiards Room is one of the only areas of the Michigan Union that hasn't undergone a major renovation; it is virtually unchanged since the Michigan Union was built. There used to be two places to play pool in the Union: this one was for students, while faculty and alumni played in a smaller, more exclusive room in a section of what is now the Bookstore. Until the 1940s, almost all of the tables in the Billiards Room were 3-cushion billiards tables--the game with no pockets. Pocket billiards was not nearly as popular with male students at the time (women weren't allowed into the building unescorted until the late sixties / early seventies). But in approximately 1945 the Union acquired 16 Brunswick Anniversary 9-foot tables; with a few minor alterations, those tables are all still in use today.
Does the Billiards Room have any long-standing traditions?
For as long as anyone can remember (at least as far back as the 1930s), a group of professors gathered to play a game called Bottle Pool. For generations, they gathered every day and played on the same table. At times, the group had two dozen members and used half of the room. They met every day at lunch, but as the group aged, they dropped to three days a week, until finally the size of the group dwindled to three and they met only once a week. The game was played on a table with pockets using 2 white balls and a red ball from a 3-cushion billiards table. There was a leather bottle placed upside-down in the middle of the table, and the object was to knock that bottle down. The first player to reach exactly 31 points won the game.
Inside scoop from Betsy: The professors won't say they never played for money, but in the years I knew them (since the late 80s) it was all about pride. And they always split their table time equally. If their total was $3.05, they would bicker over who would pay the extra nickel. Back in the 1980s, the daytime clerk, Bill Paradise, usually offered to pitch in the extra nickel himself, but the professors wouldn't go for it. The staff got to the point where we would "coincidentally" make sure it was a total that was easily divisible by three. The last two members of this group, Ernie Brater and Olin Browder, stopped playing in the early 2000s but always spoke very fondly of their days at the Bottle Pool game. Professor Browder was a Law professor until his death in 2007. There is a plaque and a photograph commemorating this unique tradition by Table 22.
Is it true that alcohol and smoking were once permitted, making it a big student hang out?
According to available records, alcohol has never been allowed in the Billiards Room, but smoking was allowed until 1993. It was (and still is) a popular student hang-out. Long-time customers report that people used to huddle around the radio and listen to football games before they were televised. The pool room has a natural sports link because of the 48 black and white photographs of past Michigan sports teams hanging on the walls. These are original photos; the Bentley Historical Library has borrowed the photos to supplement their archives. The oldest one dates back to the 1800s; people come in all the time to look for their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers on the walls. Some of the visitors are even looking for their own faces on the pictures! This is especially common on home football days, when alumni and family of alumni are in town for the game.
Does the Billiards Room have any legends?
Until the 1970s, the Billiards Room was staffed by single, retired men, many of whom lived on the premises. The last of these dedicated soldiers was Bill Paradise, who worked the day shift until the summer of 1996. Bill often recounted his story of how, in the week following the release of "The Color of Money" in 1985, there was a line of customers out the door and down the stairs. Students were so inspired by the movie that they all instantly aspired to be hustlers! Bill Paradise had a heart attack in 1996 and retired to Illinois to live with his niece. He worked in the Union for most of his life; he never owned a car or had a family, and he walked to work from his apartment on William Street for about 50 years.
Another Billiards Room legend was Carl Conlon, who died in 1997. A world-class 3-cushion billiards player and former Michigan football player, Carl traveled the world playing his beloved game until a few years before he died. When he wasn't traveling, he came to the Billiards Room every day to tell stories and sell his custom cue sticks, made by friend Dick Helmstetter in California and bearing Carl's initials. Many local pool players still use their "CCS specials," most noteworthy for their wood screw joint. In his later years, Carl's eyesight failed him, so he couldn't play competitively anymore, but he continued to offer students free lessons just for the cost of table time.
Carl's stories of historical billiards games and billiards players were so unbelievable that most people just thought he was just a crazy old man, but most of the tales proved true. He regaled students with stories of 3-cushion players in Japan and the Philippines who stayed awake for days and days, playing game after game without missing a single point. Carl even insisted that during the carefree 70s, it was not uncommon to see students smoking marijuana in the Billiards Room (until they got caught). Carl, who was already well into his 60s during what he called the "hippie days," jovially proclaimed "Eventually they even convinced me to smoke it!"
What kinds of programs does the Billiards Room offer?
The University of Michigan Billiards Club is active in several intercollegiate pool tournaments. A founding member of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), Michigan often hosts sectional and independent qualifying events for the ACUI 9-ball Championships, a singles title that has been presented nationally by ACUI since 1937. The University of Michigan Team Pool Championships - the largest collegiate pool tournament in the U.S. - was first held in 2004 and gets bigger and better every year.
In addition to 17 9-foot pool tables, a 10-foot snooker table, and a 3-cushion carom table, the Billiards Room offers two foosball tables, two custom chess tables, two table tennis tables, and eight custom Xbox 360 gaming stations. Guests can also enjoy free board games and card games. The stained-glass lights hanging over the tables are the only ones of their kind; they were custom-designed when the Union was renovated in 1996. The billiards room hosts students-only tournaments twice a month, culminating in the Campus Tournament of Champions at the end of the academic year. Students can enjoy free pool until 3PM every Wednesday, pool classes on Tuesdays during the school year, and free foosball during Club meetings every week. The Billiards Club, which welcomes recreational as well as competitive players, meets on Fridays and Sundays.
The Billiards Room welcomes group reservations every day of the week. Except for a few time and size restrictions, groups can get a 33%-50% discount. Playing pool is a great ice-breaker for small or large groups!
Does the Billiards Room host any other special events?
In February 1998 the Billiards Room had a special visit from Jeannette Lee, a top Women's Pro and the most recognized pool player in the world. A pool table was moved across the hall into a bigger room, and Jeannette put on two shows. Several audience members got the opportunity to play a game against her, and a few won a raffle to have lunch with her the next day. She said she really enjoyed her visit here and would love to come back. The Korean Students Association co-sponsored the event. "The Black Widow" visited again in 2003, when the Billiards Room hosted the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) Junior National 9-ball Championships.
The Billiards Room has welcomed many professional players as guests over the years. Hall of Fame member Nick Varner, artistic pool champions Mike Massey and George Middleditch, WPBA Pros Tammie Wesley-Jones and Alice Rim, and local pros John Binion, Derek Pogirski, Marty Sawinski, Miami Gonzalez, Richie Richeson, Eloy Molina, Port Huron Bill Smith, and the late Harry "Poochie" Sexton have all visited or frequented the Billiards Room.