Albert Lea youth pool players heading to world championships in Nebraska

Published 2:37 pm Saturday, July 15, 2023

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A passion for a game is leading 16 youth on a trip to South Sioux City, Nebraska, starting Thursday for the Junior World Pool Championships.

“It’s the biggest junior event in the world as far as pool,” said Albert Lea Youth Pool director Jeremy Wacek.

Players will come from all over the country as well as other countries, with the event typically drawing 300 to 400 players, with roughly 90 children coming from Minnesota.To be eligible to play, participants must be between 7 and 20 and put in six sanctioned weeks of league play. By comparison, there were nine sanctioned weeks during the season. League play started in October and ran through the middle of May with weeks off for holidays, with sessions running from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday.

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“We have a league throughout the year, and every week they show up,” he said, referring to the Aragon Bar.

He also prioritized getting all 22 players in the league there every week, with 17 qualifying for the competition, though one chose not to participate in the national championships. The six-week qualification made players eligible for eight-ball, doubles and teams (three players per team).

“There will be a singles event, which starts on Thursday, and then a team event will start Friday, three-person teams,” he said. “… Then there’s a cutoff with some free time where they can team up and do a doubles event as well.”

Fifteen players will compete in the team event, and everyone is participating in doubles.

Players are divided into three age brackets: 7- to 11-year-olds, 12- to 15-years-old and 16- to 20-years-old. Albert Lea will have players in each division.

Wacek’s goal for this is having kids gain experience while enjoying themselves.

“The camaraderie and sportsmanship that they earned while playing a competitive game is my primary concern,” he said.

Wacek, who has run the league since its inception in 2019, has played pool since he could walk.

“It’s always different,” he said. “You always have a basic rectangle table and the six pockets, but every time you crack that rack it’s different — it’s never the same game twice.”

The Albert Lea Youth Pool League is chartered through D&R Star out of Rochester.

Rachel Lawson’s sons, Ethan, Garett and Evan, are all competing after her oldest son started playing when the league was founded in 2019.

Tina Dresser’s grandson, Joey Dresser, will compete for the third time. Tina will drive him and another player to the event.

Tina herself plays, and has for three decades after her friend asked her to be a substitute player for a team.

“It’s fun, it’s competitive, you get to meet new friends,” she said.

Evan Lawson, who has played for two years, will compete in the 7 to 11 age group. This will be his second time competing.

“My mom and dad had us try it and I liked it, and a bunch of our family members love to play pool,” he said.

He will compete in singles, doubles and teams.

Noah Wacek will compete in the 12 to 15 age group.

“I kind of just saw my dad playing, and I thought it was pretty cool,” he said. “I grew up playing it, and I just figured I’d try [playing in] a league, and I just haven’t stopped playing ever since.”

This will be his fourth time competing.

His goal: Have fun.

He started playing at age 9.

Makayla Baas will play in the 16 to 20 age group.

“I have grandparents that play, my dad plays, so a lot of people in my family play,” she said.

After watching her dad play competitively in Rochester when she was younger, she started playing four years ago.

After finishing fourth in the girls bracket at last year’s national competition, she hopes to find the same, if not better, success this year.

Playing has also helped her forge friendships with girls from outside the area.

“I play with a girl and a boy from Rochester,” she said. “We’re playing [as] a team at nationals this year. I’ve made a lot of friends, and I add them on Snapchat and social media and stuff like that.”

Jeremy’s advice to his players was simple: Face your fears, have fun, be a good sport and aim true.

“Don’t let the venue get the better of you,” he said.

To help with World Junior Championships expenses, there will be a pancake breakfast fundraiser at the Albert Lea Moose Lodge from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Cost is $10 per plate, and tickets can be purchased pre-sale or on arrival. Contact Jeremy Wacek at 507-402-1542 or any local youth player. The lodge is at 1623 W. Main St. in the Skyline Plaza.