Shuffleboard, the quintessential senior activity enjoyed by hundreds of retirees throughout Pinellas County, is gaining momentum among the young.
"There's a movement across the country to get youth involved," said John Brennan, president of the Clearwater Shuffleboard Club, "but it's hard right now because of the hours we play." Members play weekdays, starting at about 9 a.m.
This month, though, the club has gotten on board with the message that shuffleboard can be fun for the whole family. A free Family Shuffle is slated for Friday from 7 to 10 p.m., and again on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the shuffleboard facility at 1020 Calumet St., just off N Fort Harrison Avenue.
"I want people to understand how much fun it can be to do this activity as a family," said Brennan, 63, a Pennsylvania native who spends the winters in Clearwater. "You don't have to be a natural athlete — you just get out there and play."
At the Family Shuffle, "shufflers," as the players call themselves, will be out and about teaching adults and children how to use the cue, a long stick with a broom-like aluminum handle that pushes the disc, or puck, down the court. A total of 52 courts, half of which are indoors, will be open to the public.
Family events usually involve food, and on Friday evening the aroma of hamburgers and hotdogs being sold may lure both adults and children off the court to fuel up for another round.
Most of the 140 members of the Clearwater club are seniors who return north for the summer, curtailing summer activities and tournaments. Brennan hopes to change that by opening up on weekends, at times when younger people might play.
"If this event is a success," he said of the Family Shuffle, "I hope to hold family shuffles on Sundays all year."
Club members may play just for fun or compete. Each Wednesday at 1 p.m., a professional shuffler offers free lessons, which serious students may put to use at tournaments. District tournaments are held each Thursday. Clearwater belongs to the West Coast district, which also includes the St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park shuffleboard clubs.
From October through March, state tournaments are held every Monday and Tuesday, with competitive matches rotating among the state districts. At least one tournament is scheduled somewhere in the state on those days, said Brennan, who has traveled the state to compete.
But competition isn't always the main attraction of the sport. Bob Rodman, 71, plays Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in what he calls a "pickup game" — a game played just for fun.
"This is a great place to come," said Rodman, who lives in East Lake Woodlands near Oldsmar. "Shuffleboard is relaxing and a lot less expensive than golf."
Fees vary by club, but in Clearwater they are $60 per year. The entrance fee to most tournaments is $6.
Rodman and fellow shuffler Fred Humble, 76, said they enjoy the camaraderie of the members and meeting people from all over who share a common activity and some pleasant banter. Humble, a Clearwater winter resident from New York, says there is more to the game than just moving the cue.
"When you get involved and learn what it takes, you realize it is more complex," he said.
Brennan added that the courts all have distinctive features that determine the way the cue is pushed.
Those attending the Family Shuffle also may want to peek into the club building, which houses two small museum rooms — the International Hall of Fame and the National Hall of Fame. Both contain numerous shuffleboard artifacts, including several three-foot-high trophies sporting the names of winners at the turn of the 20th century.
Brennan said he urges families to come on out and give the sport a try.
"It's a great hobby," he said. "It's inexpensive, gives you something to do and creates many new friendships."
Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]