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Don’t know the name Jean Balukas? Then you don’t know jack about pool. Balukas, a Brooklyn native (how about a proclamation, Marty?), is simply the greatest female pool player ever, having won the US Open seven years in a row — the first at age 13! — six world championships, and won over 100 professional first-place finishes.
But in 1988, she gave it all up — walking away from the only game she’d ever known. Why? You try to be a woman in a man’s game.
Balukas still owns Hall of Fame Billiards in Bay Ridge, and this week, she checked in with Will Yakowicz, a budding fan of the immortal game.
Brooklyn Paper: How has Brooklyn shaped you and your game?
Jean Balukas: One word I have to say is fuhgedaboudit! That’s the Brooklyn word that shaped my game and confidence. But also my four brothers built in me a strong character, and I realized I could beat men. When you grow up in the city you have to be strong. I had some doubts, but I am a Brooklyn girl. It taught me how to be tough, standing up for yourself and have confidence while doing it.
BP: Why don’t you sell booze at the oldest pool hall in Brooklyn?
JB: We’ve been struggling with the smoke-filled image still to this day. We’ve wanted to keep our distance from it. My father was against liquor because he thought it could raise trouble, but most important, he wanted to keep his room wholesome, a place for family and kids.
BP: Why is pool so challenging on a professional level?
JB: You have to sit in your chair maintain your composure. In baseball, you have your three strikes, or tennis you have to hit the ball back immediately. But in pool, if you miss your shot, you have to sit and watch someone else clean up the table.
BP: What was the most exciting game you played in Hall of Fame?
JB: That was when Black Widow [Jeanette Lee] came in and challenged me. We shot a couple games of nine ball. I don’t remember the score, but I had to rack for her once [Balukas lost one game]. It was intense, but I couldn’t let her beat me in my room.
BP: Why did you stop playing?
JB: It was after the 1988 Brunswick World Open.I was burnt out, frustrated, and I needed to take time away from the sport. Also, people didn’t realize I was 28-years-old playing seriously since I was 9.
BP: Will you ever play again?
JB: It’s a big question mark. I just turned 50; I might need glasses. But the most beautiful thing about this sport is that you can play forever. So I’m looking forward to the Senior Olympics.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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