The king of shuffleboard wasn’t much of a player.
He could play, he just had other things to do: inventing and perfecting shuffleboard cues for his family business, Allen R. Shuffleboard Company in Seminole, or traveling around the world introducing shuffleboard, or watching as shuffleboard became cool again.
“I never saw him play an entire game,” said Josh Dulabaum, now the co-owner of the business Sam Allen took over from his father and left to his son. “He’d play until someone walked into the room and then he’d just hand them his cue. He was all about making sure other people could play.”
Allen died June 18 of congestive heart failure. He was 93 and leaves a legacy of invention, kindness and a sport in the midst of a thriving revival.
The nicest guy in the world
Allen was known as Mr. Shuffleboard, the king of shuffleboard, and — unrelated to his work — as a really nice guy.
“It’s hard to explain it,” said Christine Page, executive director of the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. “If you met him, you would feel it immediately.”
“Everybody would just concur with what (former St. Petersburg Times reporter) Jeff Klinkenberg said in his article in 2013,” said his son, Jim Allen. “He was just the nicest guy in the world.”
Before moving to Florida, Allen was a salesman in Baltimore, where he and his wife, Marcia, lived with their three children. In 1968, they moved to the Sunshine State to take over the shuffleboard supply company his father started in 1941. Allen carried on his father’s work, but not his personality.
“Dad was the opposite,” Jim Allen said. “He didn’t want to convey negativity.”
Every day he’s shuffling
Allen ran the family shuffleboard business from 1968 until 2003. During those years, he took his family to Australia, Japan, Brazil and other countries where he was also introducing shuffleboard.
Allen opened Allen Sports Center, which sold uniforms and equipment to teams and schools across the area. In 1992, he was inducted into the Florida Shuffleboard Association’s Hall of Fame. In 1994, he was inducted into the International Shuffleboard Association’s Hall of Fame.
“But trust me,” he told the Times in 1994, “it’s not because of how I play. It’s because of what I do.”
Page, of the Shuffleboard Club, met Allen after he retired. In 2005, the club was near extinction, she said, with just 35 members.
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But soon, shuffleboard and the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club were discovered by a new generation, and the club was the inspiration for clubs in Chicago and New York, Page said.
“We were the ones that got shuffleboard popular again.”
Allen was thrilled, she said, and for years would fix, for free, the club’s cues he’d originally made to make sure newcomers had what they’d need to discover shuffleboard.
“It was like having a perfect grandpa cheering the club on all the time.”
When the fourth generation of the Allen family decided not to carry on the tradition, Jim Allen approached a young couple who loved to play.
“I thought he was crazy,” said Dulabaum.
At the time, he and his wife, Stephanie Swain, worked in the corporate world. But they stopped by and got the tour and, in 2021, took over, bringing new technology and energy to a three-generation family business.
Allen and Dulabaum worked on projects together, including a new cue, called the glider. Allen worked building prototypes out of Styrofoam, while Dulabaum fiddled with a 3D printer. They met, Dulabaum said, in the middle.
The first time they went together to an international competition, Allen pulled Dulabaum aside and said, “You know, you’re not allowed to win. You can’t beat the customers.”
“He gave me the best excuse ever,” he said.
Work of a lifetime
Shuffleboard is a simple game. It’s cheap to play and not too hard on the body.
“We’ve always said it takes 10 minutes to learn how to play shuffleboard and a lifetime to really perfect it,” Jim Allen said.
That’s what Allen taught his young predecessor.
“He helped get me out of that mindset that it’s never going to be perfect,” Dulabaum said of the products he builds.
At Allen Shuffleboard, the king of shuffleboard’s office remains as it always was — wood-paneled walls, file cabinets, a saw on the shelf. In another room, a 3D printer farm is called the Shuffleboard Additive Manufacturing.
That’s SAM for short, and it carries on the work of a man who wanted people to discover shuffleboard, and spent his life making sure that they could.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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