Columbia pool player Steve Deets assembled a small black pool cue and approached the table in a friendly Thursday night game at Rack & Roll Billiards.
Players at surrounding tables stopped and curiously watched as Deets examined his shot.
“I like pool, I like competing,” Deets said. “It’s a stress reliever that stresses you out.”
Deets’ friend Joe Henderson stopped to watch.
“No way you’re making this shot,” Henderson said to Deets. “If you make this shot I’m leaving.”
The cue ball had stopped just in front of the rim of the back corner pocket. Deets’ last ball, the solid yellow 1-ball, was positioned completely across the green-felt expanse of the table.
Three striped balls blocked Deets’ shot.
Since moving to Columbia, Deets, 51, started playing in leagues in Jefferson City and Columbia after taking a 12-year hiatus to raise his children.
He recently won a gold medal in the age 50-54 division of the Show-Me State Senior Games, and placed 193rd out of 2,048 in the singles competition at the Billiard Conference of America’s 29th National 8-ball Championships in May in Las Vegas.
Deets stood on tiptoe with his short cue aimed nearly straight down at the cue ball.
Teenage players at a nearby table looked awestruck as they realized that Deets was about to attempt a jump shot.
With a sharp jab of the cue, the cue ball leapt in the air, directly over a striped ball. It landed and banked off of the side and around the blocking striped balls.
The cue ball connected with the solid yellow and sent it towards the far corner pocket. It didn’t have enough of an angle to fall, but the shot was impressive nonetheless.
Henderson shook his head.
“That’s amazing,” Henderson said. “I can’t believe you even hit the 1-ball like that.”
Henderson said he met Deets at the University Baptist Church, and the two retired Naval officers started playing pool together.
“I play him on occasion,” Henderson said. “You don’t really get to play with him, you get to watch.”
Deets said he discovered pool as a child.
“My dad’s cousin owned a pool hall in Platte City,” he said. “We visited and I went back and used my hands.”
By the age of 10, Deets was allowed to use a cue.
“I’ve been playing since I could see over the top of the table,” Deets said.
He spent his time practicing alone or playing with friends.
“Pool was my escape,” Deets said.
Henderson said things haven’t changed.
“He spends a lot of time practicing,” Henderson said. “He shoots a lot of pool. There’s nothing in his living room but a pool table, a fireplace, and a TV.”
Butch Lagore is a BCA instructor in Jefferson City. Deets said he met Lagore about 1 1/2 years ago in a pool league at Spectators in Jefferson City.
“He’s really intense,” Lagore said. “He’s always working hard to get better. In Vegas, he practiced on a table in the lobby whenever he wasn’t playing a match.”
Ken Stoll roomed with Deets and Lagore at the nationals in Las Vegas. He competes with Deets in leagues in Jefferson City and Columbia.
“When you’re out there in an international tournament, pool consumes you,” Stoll said.
Stoll said Deets is an aggressive and offensive player. He practiced with Deets leading up to nationals.
“I used him to get ready for nationals,” Stoll said. “I’m a leave player (one who leaves you without a shot). I like to play him because he’s very difficult to play leave against.”
Deets said he is still getting back his form from competing in the Navy when he was younger.
“I hadn’t really gotten back to where I used to be,” Deets said. “I was fearless back then.”
He won his first organized tournament while stationed at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi in 1973.
“I entered it and won it and figured I’m competitive,” Deets said.
While Deets was stationed in the Philippines from 1979-1983, his game reached a new level.
“There’s a lot of good players over there,” Deets said.
Deets said he was careful playing for money in the Philippines.
“Lots of guys didn’t figure it out, but if you won, they’d replace the guy you beat with a better guy,” Deets said. “They’d keep coming in until you lost. And there’d always be a guy who could beat you.”
Eventually one of the local hustlers helped Deets with his game by telling him to focus on positioning his ball after each shot.
In 1982 his skill won him four naval billiards championships: Cubi Captain’s Cup singles and doubles championships and the Admiral’s Cup singles and doubles championships.
“I’m getting back to that,” Deets said. “It’s such a neat feeling, going up to the table already knowing your going to make the shot.”
In 1987 Deets went undefeated in the Navy Hawaii Sports Conference 14.1 Pocket Billiards Championship.
“I hadn’t been shooting regularly,” Deets said. “I figured, ‘I’ll try and enter it and see what happens’.”
Deets began playing regularly four years ago while going to lunch at a pool hall in Jefferson City, where he works as a counselor for the state’s department of mental health.
“I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it,” Deets said.
Deets played in leagues out of Mike’s Corner Pocket and Spectators in Jefferson City, and later began playing out of Rack & Roll Billiards and Columbia Billiards in Columbia.
“I never used to shoot on leagues and teams before,” Deets said. “We play because we enjoy what it takes.”
Besides playing pool, Deets said he is working with Henderson to open a pool hall.
“We want to open up a pool hall in Knob Noster, at Whiteman Air Force Base,” Henderson said. “That’s our goal someday, to cater to the military.”
“I’d worked on some designs,” Deets said. “We’ve been talking about it for the last couple of years. To me, (owning a pool hall) would be a real ideal thing.”