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Shuffleboard championships draw mix of old and young to St. Petersburg

Bernar Borges of Brazil waits his turn during the World Singles Championship at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club in St. Petersburg on Monday afternoon.
Bernar Borges of Brazil waits his turn during the World Singles Championship at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club in St. Petersburg on Monday afternoon.
Published Oct. 22, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Bernar Borges was 51 years younger than his competitor, and at least a head taller.

The 23-year-old Brazilian smoothed his mustache, stretched his neck back and stooped to push his yellow disc forward.

It clacked against a black disk and slid to the left, off the shuffleboard court.

Not good.

Borges is an actuarial science student from Rio. His opponent, 74-year-old Bob Marshman, is a retiree from Zephyrhills who spends four days a week competing.

The 2013 World Shuffleboard Singles Championship being played in St. Petersburg this week is an intersection of age and skill, a scene still dominated by seniors but increasingly drawing younger competitors.

"You've got 90-year-old people here and we've got 16-year-old players here, and they play as equals on the court," said Michael Zellner, president of the International Shuffleboard Association.

The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club was chosen to host the weeklong competition to coincide with the sport's 100th anniversary in Florida. On Monday, 160 players from 13 countries converged on the courts, determined to prove shuffleboard is neither the exclusive domain of retirees nor best played in North America.

• • •

On the international field, Canadians and Americans dominate, but that isn't necessarily the case abroad, where the sport is relatively new.

"There's none of this (only) retired people playing and all this old man stuff," said Dieter Hussmann, 54, president of the German Shuffleboard Association.

Hussmann's German group works hard to bill the sport as a family game.

"Sex or age or personal fitness — it doesn't matter," Hussmann said. "It's pure skill."

But that skill takes time to develop, and it's why the snowbirds excel. When they leave the cold of New York or Ontario for the busy shuffleboard courts of places like Zephyrhills, they bring their cues. Retirement gives them open days to compete and teach and train.

You can't age out of shuffleboard. There's almost no physical component. If you can step, hold a cue and move your arm forward, you're fit to play.

• • •

The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club is a sprawl of refurbished green courts and white stucco buildings on the north end of Mirror Lake.

Founded in 1924, it's the largest and the oldest club in the country, but since the mid 2000s has a young following. Organizers want more 20-somethings on the courts.

"You know how people get obsessed with video games or a sport?" club membership director Jen Logan asked. "We want them to get obsessed."

To be eligible for competition, players need only belong to a club, she said.

The club, like the sport, is chasing a cultural shift that comes with a caveat. Younger, more fit players may well be the underdog.

"There's a big difference between someone who's been playing for 50 years and someone who's been playing for five," Logan said. "Even if they are training."

Claire Wiseman can be reached at (727) 893-8804 or cwiseman@tampabay.com. On Twitter: @clairelwiseman.

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