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Shuffleboarders line up to take Sam Allen's cues

The picture on his office wall shows him perched imperially upon a throne, wearing a regal robe and a crown and holding a shuffleboard cue stick like an iron scepter in his hand.

The inscription underneath the picture identifies him with authority:

"The Shuffleboard King."

The picture was a gag gift from a friend, but avid shufflers in Florida and all over the world do recognize Sam Allen, 64, as a sovereign in the world of shuffleboard.

In 1992, the Seminole businessman was inducted into the Florida Shuffleboard Association's Hall of Fame. This year, he will be inducted into the International Shuffleboard Association's Hall of Fame.

"But trust me," Allen said. "It's not because of how I play. It's because of what I do."

What Allen does is own and operate Allen R. Shuffleboard Co. in Seminole, a business that exports its products all over the world. Indeed, it may be the largest of its kind in the world. The inductions, royal titles and other tokens of appreciation keep coming Allen's way because of his contributions to the sport of shuffleboard.

Now in its 52nd year, the Allen R. Shuffleboard Co. makes the shuffleboard cue sticks, disks, scoreboards, accessories and chemicals that clean, wax and lubricate courts all over the world. Allen's business ships shuffleboard equipment to 45 states and 15 foreign countries, including Canada, Ireland, England, Japan, Australia, Denmark and, to the surprise of local devotees, Zimbabwe.

"Yep, there are about 20 courts in Zimbabwe now," Allen said. "Within two years or so, they may be hosting the invitational there."

All of this is in keeping with Allen's goal of making shuffleboard a truly international sport.

"I would like to be able to visit 100 countries and be able to play shuffleboard the way people are able to play tennis and golf and other sports," he said. "I want to help spread shuffleboard throughout the whole world."

A business he loves

In 1941, Richard K. Allen, Sam Allen's father, started Allen R. Shuffleboard Co. The "R" in the name stands for Richard; Sam Allen has kept it in memory of his father.

Incidentally, the three Allen Sports Centers in Seminole, St. Petersburg and Tampa also are owned by Sam Allen along with his son, Jim Allen, and his son-in-law, Don Bates.

With his son and son-in-law overseeing the sports centers, Allen relishes his opportunity to concentrate on what he loves most: his shuffleboard business.

"We basically assemble the shuffleboard cues, which are made of graphite, fiberglass or aluminum," Allen said. "We're set up to sell to dealers. We sell equipment to Sports Unlimited, to Champs. . . . We have more than 400 dealers we sell to, but because we're local, we can also do a lot of retail for individuals locally."

The success of Allen's business hinges on shuffleboard players' unwavering devotion to their chosen sport, and it does seem that it's easy for people to get hooked once they start playing.

"Ten years ago, I didn't even know what shuffleboard was," said Bob Craig of Clearwater, state delegate for the Florida Shuffleboard Association's West Coast District. "But in my (mobile home) park I started to get into it. . . . I turned pro, and now I'm on the board of directors at the Clearwater Shuffleboard Club. That's my whole life now, shuffleboard."

Allen knows that many winter residents discover shuffleboard for the first time in Florida and then bring the sport back home with them.

"At first, it seems like a cinchy sport, like it's easy, an old man's sport," said Fred Watkin of Dunedin, a winter resident here from Ontario with his wife, Ruth. "But it's hard. There's so much strategy involved. It's amazing how serious this is. . . . We really love it."

The state of Florida is divided into seven different shuffleboard districts. The West Coast District, which covers Pinellas and some of Pasco and Hillsborough counties, boasts 9,833 tournament players who compete on 922 courts. The West Coast District is home to the largest segment of the 40,000 or so serious shufflers in the state.

Regardless of exactly where they live, most of those 40,000 use the cue sticks, disks and other equipment made at Allen R. Shuffleboard Co.

"Need creates most everything," Allen said. "People come in here and give us ideas. . . . They love to come in here and see the experimental stuff."

His two newest experimental cue sticks are the Rol-A-Glide and the Big Foot. Both cues feature the widest heads ever made in the history of the game _ 5} inches across. The Big Foot has swivel runners, and the Rol-A-Glide has wheels to help keep friction and vibration to a minimum.

"This is my favorite part, coming up with the innovative stuff," Allen said.

Friendly competition

Considering that Allen is so involved with shuffleboard, some are surprised to learn that he does not compete in any tournaments or play the sport on a regular basis.

"There's a reason I don't," he said. "I make over 60 different models of cues here. If I played, I'd start to tell people, "This is the best cue to use.' I'd start to stereotype like that."

Although he doesn't play seriously himself, he does understand what keeps those die-hard shufflers playing year after year.

"There's so much strategy involved in the game," said Jim DeLanoy, chairman of a recent league doubles tournament at the Clearwater Shuffleboard Club. "That's what makes it so interesting. It's not just pushing a puck onto the court."

"It's a very competitive thing, but generally speaking, it's a friendly competitive thing," said Ada Armstrong, 90, of Clearwater, who was inducted into the Florida Shuffleboard Hall of Fame the same night as Allen. "It's one of the most social sports you could be involved in. People make friends playing this sport.

"I think Sam is remarkable. He's really added to the sport of shuffleboard. If there's anything you want, you call Sam, and he'll get it for you. . . . He's an awful nice guy."