SLIP­PING A DISC

Shuf­fle­board re­gain­ing its charm, a game for the ages

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY GLENN MILLER

Shuf­fle­board re­gain­ing its charm, a game for the ages

Mere ru­mors of a breeze waft through the open-air Clear­wa­ter Shuf­fle­board Club on a spring morn­ing as Florida’s best shuf­flers push discs, eye­ball strate­gic moves and tab­u­late scores. Discs schussed across courts clink, clack and clat­ter when they col­lide. Force­ful shots at times clob­ber an­other disc with au­thor­i­ta­tive clunk, and some­times discs veer off courts with thunks into the al­ley, shuf­fle­board’s ver­sion of bowl­ing’s gut­ter.

Shuf­flers, as they’re called, are here for the Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons. They’ve come from Es­tero, Fort My­ers, Cape Coral and Port Char­lotte to par­tic­i­pate against coun­ter­parts from around the state.

Un­seen by those of us out­side the sport, shuf­fle­board is boom­ing in Florida, with thou­sands of men and women play­ing. “Shuf­fle­board is mak­ing a big come­back,” says Dave Ku­dro, first vice pres­i­dent of the Florida Shuf­fle­board As­so­ci­a­tion.

The sport’s vi­tal­ity is ev­i­dent on this sunny morn­ing that Ku­dro is to speak at the Clear­wa­ter cham­pi­onship―li­cense plates in the park­ing lot from Lee, Broward, Pasco, Man­a­tee and Pinel­las coun­ties, snow­birds from New York, Illi­nois, Ohio, even the dis­tant Cana­dian prov­inces of On­tario and Que­bec. “The elite of the elite play in this [Clear­wa­ter] tour­na­ment,” says Landy Ad­kins, pres­i­dent of the Florida Shuf­fle­board As­so­ci­a­tion.

Shuf­fle­board has been played in Florida since about 1913. It dates back cen­turies to a game of slid­ing large coins. Mod­ern play­ers Stephen Bi­aggi and He­len Bi­aggi love the sport nearly as much as they love each other. They were mar­ried on a North Fort My­ers shuf­fle­board court on Jan. 9, 2010, a day He­len Bi­aggi says is the cold­est ever recorded in Fort My­ers. A rare chill didn’t stop the wed­ding on a day that, ac­cord­ing to the track­ing site Weather Un­der­ground, the high tem­per­a­ture was only 52. “She is my best friend," says Stephen Bi­aggi. “My wife is my best friend.”

Friend­ship and ca­ma­raderie are among the game’s draws. But at its heart shuf­fle­board is still a sport. It’s in hu­man na­ture to want to ex­cel and com­pete and, even for play­ers eas­ing past 80th and 90th birth­days, those de­sires may be tamped down a bit but they haven’t been ex­tin­guished.

The Rev. John E. Brown, 80, of Braden­ton, for in­stance, is hardly a novice, play­ing the game for “72 2/3 years,” trac­ing his shuf­fle­board roots to July 1946 as a boy in Ken­tucky. “What other sport can you play from [ages] 5 to 105?” Brown asks.

Es­tero res­i­dent Dianna Allen hasn’t been at it nearly as long as the rev­erend. Be­fore start­ing play in the Clear­wa­ter tour­na­ment, she had been play­ing for about 20 years. She is at the tour­na­ment with her 77-year-old hus­band, Sam. “It’s a fun game,” Sam Allen says. “It’s not a stren­u­ous game. It’s a re­lax­ing game.”

Lake­land res­i­dent Glenn Mon­roe is the state tour­na­ment direc­tor and keeper of records for the Florida as­so­ci­a­tion. He says there are about 6,800 reg­is­tered play­ers from Es­tero to Se­bring to St. Petersburg. But one place stands out as the fo­cus of Florida shuf­fle­board. “If you were go­ing to sin­gle out a hot­bed of shuf­fle­board, it’s Ze­phyrhills,” Mon­roe says of the cen­tral Florida com­mu­nity.

How does one be­come good enough, whether from Cape Coral or Ze­phyrhills, to qual­ify for the state tour­na­ment? “The key at­tribute like any other sport is con­cen­tra­tion,” Mon­roe says, which is ap­par­ent watch­ing shuf­flers study the court, size up shots and try de­ter­min­ing what to do next, even two or three shots away. “Top play­ers all have that laser fo­cus,” Mon­roe adds.

Cape Coral res­i­dent Ray Buck, 76, knows about that laser fo­cus, play­ing mi­nor league base­ball in the early 1960s, into shuf­fle­board since 2003. When he started play­ing at North Fort My­ers Com­mu­nity Park in his 60s, his wife of­ten asked the same ques­tion when he came home, he says. “Joan would say, ‘What 90-year-old beat you to­day?’ ” Buck says, smil­ing, per­haps be­cause he would fin­ish sec­ond in the Clear­wa­ter tour­na­ment.

And while wins and losses, cham­pi­onships and Hall of Fame se­lec­tions are im­por­tant in shuf­fle­board, there is an­other pri­mary rea­son why so many shuf­flers keep play­ing. “Here we are,” He­len Bi­aggi says, “with so many nic e peo­ple.”

What other sport can you play from [ages] 5 to 105?” —The Rev. John E. Brown, Braden­ton shuf­fle­boarder

Shuf­fle­board has been played in Florida since about 1913. It dates back cen­turies to a game of slid­ing large coins.

Friend­ship and ca­ma­raderie are among the game’s draws. But at its heart shuf­fle­board is still a sport.

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