Legion member participation sports reached out to a new group of Legionnaires May 25-27 with the inaugural Dominion Command Eight- Ball Championship held at Britannia Branch in Victoria.
The pressure was on the host branch team which was representing British Columbia/Yukon Command as it faced formidable opponents, particularly the Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario team from Norwood-St. Boniface Branch in Winnipeg.
Eight-ball pool became a dominion-level sport following a resolution passed at the 2010 dominion convention in Winnipeg. The Dominion Command Sports Committee chaired by Dominion Vice-President Dave Flannigan then set about drafting rules for the game in time for the first tournament.
The World Pool-Billiard Association rules were used as a base, adopted for Legion purposes. “We want this to be the template and we can build upon what happens here,” Flannigan told referees and team captains before the competition began.
All commands, except Quebec Command, were able to send a team. In some cases, it meant holding provincial playoffs for the first time.
While some players came to Victoria early in order to visit the West Coast, most players came in on Friday and were met by drivers from the branch. A meet and greet was held on Friday evening at the branch with players getting to know each other and the two tables on which they would be playing.
Things kicked off Saturday morning with the opening ceremonies. “In the Legion, we talk about comradeship. Once you are Legionnaire you will always be welcome. I know in pool, the players talk about sportsmanship. We want this weekend to be where comradeship and sportsmanship come together and are one,” said Flannigan, welcoming the players.
Greetings were also brought by British Columbia/Yukon Command Past President Dave Sinclair who is also a member of the branch and Britannia Branch President Joan Dysart. A short remembrance ceremony followed with Flannigan placing a wreath, assisted by Sinclair.
The tournament would take two days to play in round-robin format. The nine four-man teams were divided into four divisions and two conferences. Each player would play eight games in the tournament with a bye counting as one point. The players would play three games before play moved on to the next division. Total scores for the team were added together to determine the winner. The results of the tournament would establish the four top-scoring players to face off in singles play. There would also be a scotch doubles playoff to pick the best pair in each conference.
The British Columbia/Yukon team of Larry Wilson, Curtis Beech, Craig Walters and Bill Unwin from the host Britannia Branch got off to a good start with Wilson winning three games in a row.
By the time each player had played against three opponents, the New Brunswick team of Maurice Hicks, Norman Saunders, Ernie Fahey and Skip Siddall from Sackville Branch were in the lead with 10 points. B.C. had eight points and was tied with both the Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario team of Jules Mortinson, Curtis Beaudoin, Stephen Kingyens and Joe Ducharme and the Ontario team of Mel McMurter and Ross Kosmack of Frankford Branch and Chris Noon and Al Simmons of A.C. McCallum Branch in Niagara Falls.
By the end of the day with each player having played six games, the lead had shifted to B.C. with 17 points, followed closely by a three-way tie between New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario, all with 16.
The Nova Scotia/Nunavut team of Christopher Marsh, Howard McKinnon, Robert Moore and Brian Bartkow from A.H. Foster MM Memorial Branch in Kingston showed strength throughout the day and came in with 13, cheered on by the command sports representative, Second Vice Steve Wessel.
The next morning the tournament resumed with each player having only three games left. Right off the bat, Wilson continued his winning streak, ending his portion of the tournament with nine out of nine points. Beech won two out of three, leaving B.C. at 22 by the end of the second division, with Manitoba at 21, New Brunswick at 19 and Ontario at 18.
Next up Walters got one out of three games for B.C. while Kingyens got two for Manitoba, tying the two teams at 23. New Brunswick was at 22 while Ontario was stuck at 18.
“That puts the pressure on me,” said Unwin, who played fourth for B.C. “I have three games to play and (Ducharme) has a bye, so he only has to play two.”
Unwin went on to lose one game, but win two while Ducharme got both games he played plus the bye for three points, ending the round-robin play with the two teams tied at 28.
Flannigan announced the tie and said that each team would choose three shooters. Each shooter would play a game of best two out of three to decide the winner.
That meant Wilson, Beech and Walters for B.C. were up against Beaudoin, Kingyens and Ducharme for Manitoba. Wilson remained undefeated and Beech and Walters both took their games for a clean sweep, making B.C./Yukon the first Dominion Command eight-ball champions.
The final standings were B.C./Yukon (Britannia Br.) 28 (1st place); Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario (Norwood-St. Boniface Br.) 28; New Brunswick (Sackville Br.), Nova Scotia/Nunavut (A.H. Foster MM Memorial Br., Kingston) 21; Alberta-Northwest Territories (Kingsway Br., Edmonton), Ontario (Frankford Br. and A.C. McCallum Br., Niagara Falls) 20; Prince Edward Island (Tignish Br.), Newfoundland and Labrador (Labrador City Br.), 15; Saskatchewan (Swift Current Br.) 12.
Next up was scotch doubles in which the best pair from Conference A played the best pair from Conference B. No surprise, it was another B.C.-Manitoba showdown with Wilson and Beech taking on Kingyens and Ducharme. The pair holding the table alternated shots until there was a missed shot and their opponents took over. The games went quickly as teams cleared the balls away quickly, but Wilson’s skill was again a factor. He was undefeated and B.C./Yukon also took home the trophy for scotch doubles.
The final contest of the weekend was the singles play. Here the top four shooters of the tournament played for themselves. Playing were B.C.’s Wilson, New Brunswick’s Ernie Fahey and both Beaudoin and Ducharme from Manitoba. It was a round-robin format with each player going against his three opponents until the best two were chosen.
That left it up to a match between the undefeated Wilson and Ducharme. Wilson won the first game but Ducharme bounced back to win the second. Wilson won the next game, but there was a sigh of relief or surprise when Ducharme came back to win the fourth game. That forced a deciding fifth game. Wilson came close to clearing the table before missing a shot. Given his chance, Ducharme did not choke and managed to clear all his balls and the eight ball to a round of applause.
The weekend was a busy one for Local Arrangements Chairman Bill Unwin, not only was he planning the first-ever dominion pool tournament, but he was also captain of the command team. “I tried to put together the best team I could, but ended up playing on it, anyway,” he quipped.
The branch team members have been friends for more than a dozen years. Three of them play on the same team on Wednesday nights. “The pressure was on throughout. Not only was I captain, but I was the team scorekeeper, so I knew where we were all along,” said Unwin.
Ducharme said he knew that the B.C. team would be the team to beat early on. “I felt we were the underdog all the way through the tournament,” said Ducharme who learned to shoot pool growing up on the Keeseekoose First Nations reserve in northern Saskatchewan.
At the closing banquet, Flannigan noted that he had seldom seen so many spouses attending a Legion sports banquet, a sign that the sport was reaching a new group of Legionnaires, many of whom had only recently joined the Legion to play eight ball. Trophies and prizes were presented and Flannigan thanked all the volunteers from the drivers and referees to the ladies in the kitchen who provided meals throughout the weekend.
Declaring the inaugural event a success, Flannigan added, “I want to thank Britannia Branch for providing us with a model we can take to Fredericton for next year’s eight-ball championship.”