by: Don "Cheese" Akerlow
The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) has announced that Ewa Mataya Laurance and George Balabuska have been elected to the BCA Hall of Fame. The Induction Ceremony was held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 1, 2004, at the Las Vegas Hilton during the BCA Trade Expo.
Ewa Mataya Laurance - Ewa Mataya Laurance is one of the best-known and recognizable stars in billiards. Known as "The Striking Viking", she began her career in her native Sweden, where she captured the National 9-Ball Championship in 1980. In 1981, she won this title again and also won the 14.1 Championship and the European 14.1 Championship. She won the World Open 9-Ball Championship in 1983 and 1984, and she captained the winning team in the Old Milwaukee Team Cup in 1984. In 1988, Ms. Laurance won the International 9-Ball, the World 8-Ball and the U.S. Open Women's 9-Ball Championships. She set the Women's High Run record for Straight Pool in 1988 and has held it (except for 10 minutes in 1992) since then. She also won the 1991 WPBA National, the 1991 Women's U.S. Open 9-Ball and the 1994 WPA World 9-Ball Championships. Ms. Laurance has made many TV appearances, written four books, received the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America (BBIA) Industry Service award, visited U.S. troops in Bosnia, is the only billiard player ever featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and currently serves as President of the WPBA.
I would like to thank Ewa for this exclusive interview. I found her to be articulate, professional, warm and personable.
D"C"A: You must be really excited about being inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame.
Ewa: I am.
D"C"A: Where do you live now?
Ewa: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I really like the South. People are awfully laid back and friendly down here.
D"C"A: How long have you been a member of the WPBA?
Ewa: Since 1981
D"C"A: What are your plans as president for the WPBA? Is there anything new coming up? Any changes?
Ewa: Weíre really excited Ö weíve been working this whole last year. This current board has been working real hard to get a long-term commitment from ESPN so we have something to really work with, with our sponsors, as far as trying to take everything to the next level, whatever that may turn out to be. Having a one year to one year contract with ESPN kind of limits you as far as the investments you want to make, donít know whatís going to be around the bend. For us to be able to get real commitments from our sponsors we obviously need to have a long-term commitment from ESPN. We managed to get a three year commitment out of them and just signed the contract about a month and a half ago.
Weíre very excited about that. What that allowed us to do was not only to sign long-term commitments with our sponsors Ė for instance Brunswick signed on as well for three years Ė but it also gave our long-term planning committee a chance to really take a look at our budget and what we can do. One of the things weíre going to do Ė youíre going to see a little bit of a different face of the WPBA that we are very excited about. We have invested in an actual set that is going to be traveling around from event to event. Peg Ledman and her crew will be taking it from tournament to tournament. Instead of having the Casino carpeting, for instance, in the background of the overhead shots, weíre going to have our own carpeting and stuff. Just to take it to another Ö
D"C"A: Iíve had some people when we watch it, commenting when itís on about the carpeting.
Ewa: And itís just one of those things where every dollar, the ways itís set up, the fact that the WPBA own their own tour, we have our own contracts with sponsors, with ESPN, etc. For every dime that we take to try to change things, for instance, buy carpeting, surprisingly expensive both shipping and to buy it and everything else.
D"C"A: Are you going to have the logo on there?
Ewa: We are still working on all those details. Peg Ledman is handling that, itís kind of a wish list that sheís trying to stretch the dollars as much as she can. The problem is for every dime we spend on production is money taken out of the prize fund essentially. Because the money we get in from sponsors is spent on television production, event staging, prize fund for the players, programs for the regional tours that we support. So itís all one big picture. Itís difficult to kind of delegate that money and spend it where itís good for players. It good for the tour, good for our sponsors, that type of thing.
D"C"A: We have the NWPA womenís tour here in the Northwest, and weíre going to sponsor a WPBA event this summer.
Ewa: Fantastic! Iím so excited and so proud about our relationship with all the regional tours around the country because for the WPBA with the resources we have Ė granted though we are a professional association Ė we like to reach out to amateurs and to juniors to give them an opportunity to join a professional tour but our resources have always been limited already as we just talked about so for these regional tours to get involved with us the way itís worked out is phenomenal. Weíre helping the regional tours, the regional tours are helping the WPBA. It really turned out to be a super relationship. We have really good people throughout the whole country working for us.
Whatís great is that you can see these women Ė thereís some great players coming out of these tours, absolutely, flabbergasting how many great players there are throughout the whole country.
D"C"A: You can almost go anywhere and find somebody that can beat you.
Ewa: Absolutely. So this is the grass roots program that we dreamt of starting fifteen years ago that is now really starting to kick in and come to fruition completely and it has been for a few years. I know that Vicki Pasky back when the tour first started in í93, the Classic Tour, was really, that was her baby. She really wanted to have the grass roots program really working, the regional tours, the qualifiers, and its in the middle of surpassing what we had hope it to be. Weíre really excited about it.
D"C"A: Are you still writing a column for Pool & Billiards?
Ewa: I am and I just got done with my 4th book. I did three books, ďThe Complete Idiots GuideĒ, the biggest book that I did Ė they decided to do a revision, so thatís coming out in the fall.
D"C"A: At what age did you start playing pool?
Ewa: I was 14
D"C"A: Who taught you?
Ewa: No one in particular really. I just became obsessed with it and it was all I wanted to do. Then just by seeing, it was kind of the ďsponge effectĒ really. Everybody that I ran into that knew more about pool than I did, I asked questions, I watched them play. I wanted to play against them to learn. The goal back then when menís and womenís tournaments were together, back then, the men played a good couple of levels above what the women played. So I would watch the men and constantly learn and pick up stuff every time I went to a tournament or into a poolroom and that type of thing. And then a lot of alliances, my ex-husband Jimmy Mataya, Bob Hunter, Mike Sigel, some of the people that have helped me out here and there along the way.
D"C"A: When I started out myself, I did the same thing pretty much about 35 to 37 years ago was watch other people. How did they make that cue ball move? How did they get to where they got to because it didnít look like it should have got there without the rails. Did you pattern your game after anybody?
Ewa: Not really. I think that by time Ö No I donít think so. The only thing, and that was a mistake, I think the only thing I did was Ö Iíve always been, since I was self-taught. I was always a very natural player, and a natural player needs to play a lot. To be able to keep the level up, if you have a natural stroke to stroke. Now a learned player, someone who has the perfect fundamentals like an Allison or even Mike Sigel, the way that he approaches the table, need to practice much less because it is much more mechanical and automatic. They do the same thing, very repetitive type stroke. So to keep their level of play up it doesnít take as much as for a natural player to.
D"C"A: So basically you get in and out of rhythm easier.
D"C"A: Because Iíve noticed Iím pretty much the same type of player like that and if I donít practice a lot, my game goes off.
Ewa: I used to watch Mike Sigel and Nick Varner, they used to travel together all the time because Mike for awhile was on the Brunswick staff also, and weíve become good friends over the years and I watched the two of them and Nick practices all the time and always has. Mike would go fishing or golfing or find somebody to talk to. But he just has more of a technical, mechanical way of approaching the table where Nick is a more natural player and therefore Nick needs to play more to keep his game up. And so when I moved to Charlotte, I started doing so many exhibitions, Iím working a lot for Brunswick, Iíve been raising my daughter all these years, I realized I wasnít playing as much as I was and then Allison moved to Charlotte and I thought maybe thatís what I should do. I should just get a little more mechanical approach to the table, so that way I could still get away with not playing as much and at that point I changed my game, and that was the biggest mistake I think I have ever made, because then Iíve been confused ever since.
D"C"A: You mentioned your daughter, what is her name?
D"C"A: Does she play?
Ewa: Nikki, plays enough to where she has a good time at it. She beats most of her guy friends. Her dream is to be Ė sheís an aspiring professional horseback rider. She jumps horses and competes, but sheís got her motherís genes as far as competitiveness goes. Her trade of choice is horses as opposed to pool.
D"C"A: You were mentioning that you were doing your exhibitions for Brunswick, youíd come out to Portland, at the Pavilion there, sponsored by Apollo Pools. Terryís a good guy.
Ewa: Terryís fantastic, heís the salt of the earth, he really is. Heís become a real good friend as well as Ė weíre both obviously involved with Brunswick Ė but heís just a really good person.
D"C"A: When you practice, what was your schedule?
Ewa: Well, I think when I was playing my best, mostly I just played. I would play by myself until I ran into someone who would, maybe somebody who came to the poolroom, that would be a good sparing partner.
D"C"A: How do you practice?
Ewa: You just rack or just throw the balls out, all fifteen or nine balls and just run them off and then when I run into a problem or something that I would have a hard time with I would shoot that same shot, over and over and over until it felt comfortable again. And then practice things like my break or jump shot and all that. Mainly it was just throwing the balls out there and playing, getting to the point where the table feels like itís about a foot and a half by three feet in size. I used to play 8-10 hours a day and now I play nowhere near that. Iím still just as competitive as I was but my game is not as solid as it used to be. Itís very much more sporadic than it used to be. Thatís hard to take.
D"C"A: Do you think thatís concentration?
Ewa: No. I feel a big part of it is instead of playing 8-10 hours a day Iím playing 1 or 2 hours a day. I guess I donít feel the need to prove Ö I used to feel like I needed to prove myself, I needed acceptance. I guess, with age and the fact that Iíve won all the major titles there are to win, I donít have the same hunger I used to have.
D"C"A: I get that feeling sometimes myself but then I re-energize myself for whatever reason - I get beat by someone that is blind or something an it just kind of shakes me up, I think. How long have you been doing play-by-play?
Ewa: Oh, Iíve been doing that on and off for years, since probably the early 90ís. I used to do it way back even late 80ís. I would guest commentate quite a bit here and there. Matches werenít broadcast on TV that often back then. Iíve been doing commentary on and off since then.
D"C"A: I met you and Mitch when I was out there at Lincoln City. What did you think of the Northwest and the Pacific Ocean?
Ewa: We love it! We went fishing while we were there actually with Terry. We caught a 38 and 40 pounder, Salmon and we had the time of our life. We actually were talking about making a golf trip out there when the weather was a little warmer. And we were talking to Terry about how great it would be to have a place out there somewhere in the mountains. We really like the outdoors both Mitch and I. We both love to play golf and it doesnít get any prettier than the Northwest. It is the most breathtaking place. Iíve never been up to Washington. I hear about all the nature and the woods, everything up in that area. Iíve never been out there. Iíve never been to Montana, so I think now that my daughter is kind of fending for herself in a different way. Weíve been talking about when we go out to tournaments and stuff Ė when we go out to that area that we actually stay and see something.
D"C"A: What kind of cue do you use?
Ewa: Bob Hunterís Cue Ė Hunter Cue. Bobís originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Bobís a World Champion Straight Pool player. He now lives in and makes cues. He kind of went the same way Sigel did, he makes cues, he lives in Nevada. I think Carson City.
D"C"A: Do you have a favorite place to play, Myrtle Beach or do you go somewhere else?
Ewa: Actually thereís no real poolroom here that I go to. I play at home. I have a Brunswick Montebello in my house where I made a really nice poolroom, so thatís where I usually play. Every once in a while I go up to Wilmington, thereís a poolroom up there but its kind of tough to stay sharp because I donít have anyone to spar with. Iíll be playing on my table at home and Iíll be playing great and all of a sudden I get to a tournament and thereís an actual opponent firing back at me. It makes it a little tougher.
D"C"A: Do you do have any charities?
Ewa: Make A Wish Foundation is my main charity, but also the Cancer Research Foundation. My husband had prostate cancer 2 years ago, so that one hit closer to home than you ever expect or want it to. Those are my two main charities and Iím really involved with the Make A Wish Foundation.
D"C"A: Both in the ranks of professional and amateur players there has been in the past 20 to 25 years a tremendous growth in pool, what do you contribute that to?
Ewa: I give the WPBA an amazing amount of credit because I think sports and recreation is overall very cyclical. People, it kind of comes and goes, it becomes the in thing to do then it kind of disappears. Right now poker is all the rage. Pokerís been around forever but if you look 5 years ago and 5 years from now, thereís a good chance poker may or may not be the rage.
I think that the fact that the WPBA has managed to keep consistently on television Ė Yes, weíre short on a lot of thing. We need regular time slots. We need ESPN to help promote us instead of putting it on when itís convenient. I donít mind the reruns being on whenever, but the original program, the first time itís shown, we need to be able to build a fan base and give our fans a chance to follow and to build on that. So thereís a lot of things missing but I think the fact that weíre staying out there, weíre showing a really professional Ė what a great family sport it is. What a great intelligent sport it is. Itís a sexy sport. Itís all the way around, it doesnít matter what walk of life youíre in itís just a great fame for everybody. I think that thatís one of the things, menís sports have always been great, but womenís pool has really brought a lot of that attention to it.
D"C"A: What about on the amateur level?
Ewa: I think the amateur level too. I think that feeds it. First of all the serious amateur, especially on the womenís side but even on the menís side has really seen an opportunity so that thereís actually the next level to go to. In pool out there the professional tour, is growing by leaps and bounds so thereís someplace to go Ė thereís something. That if youíre an aspiring professional then thereís someplace to go now, which there never was in the past. I also think that the APA, the BCA, the Valley league Ė the N-P-B-A Ė what is it? N-B Ė Iím alphabet soup here Ö
D"C"A: Thereís the VNEA, BCA, thereís TAP, thereís APA Ö Ewa: Right, all those leagues are all doing their part of promoting the game. Yeah, most of them are businesses and thatís wonderful and I hope they do really well, but the main thing is that as theyíre doing their business, itís promoting pool all over the place. And also BCAís program with the juniors. There are so many girls now that come to our tournaments and say ďIíve been watching you on TVĒ or ďIíve always dreamed of being a professional player.Ē How many , other than if Daddy owns a poolroom, how many 12 year old girls have even thought about pool before. So itís all, everybody is doing their part. Everybodyís bringing it together and this is what Iíve always dreamed of, is that the industry would actually come together. The proprietors, the dealers, the manufacturers, the players and work towards common goals. And try to fight against other sports to get our recognition as opposed to be fighting against each other, which is ludicrous. Because as weíre fighting against each other Ė other sports out there are taking our TV time. Theyíre taking our sponsorship dollars. Theyíre taking our opportunity because weíre too busy bickering amongst ourselves. I think that that has to change and itís still changing and itís really neat to see.
D"C"A: There has been a lot of Asian players come in, in the past few years and them seem to be making a lot of noise, great players, what do you think?
Ewa: Well, I think itís fantastic. This really shows that now only are we doing our stuff here but things are happening all over the world as far as pool goes. Asia has really taken off. I mean itís always been big in the Philippines and Japan. When we were over in Japan, in the early to mid 80ís and especially right after the late 80ís when the ďColor of MoneyĒ hit, it went crazy in Japan. Every block had a poolroom on it all of a sudden. Loree Jon Jones, myself, Vicki Pasky, Robin Bell, Robin Dodson, some of us, we were over there playing tournaments in the mid to late 80ís. But then itís really grown. Chinaís where itís really become popular, Taiwan, Europe, Australia. Itís really grown at a tremendous pace, so I think as far as the players doing well over here first of all thereís a big pool of people over there and thatís part of it but a big part of it is theyíre taking it very seriously. So for instance when Allison Fisher or Karen Corr learned how to play snooker, it wasnít just in a poolroom somewhere or watching somebody. Thereís actually, thereís professionals that actually teach fundamentals over there. In Asia, when you talk to, thereís coaches, thereís people like Jennifer Chen or Ga Young Kim, work with that are like billiards trainers and that professionalism is something that we are behind on here in the United States. Thatís something we are finally starting to figure out now to where all these nice billiard rooms now. You should be able to go to a poolroom and find a professional that you can work with in every single poolroom, no different than at a golf course.
Women have been lagging behind and in Asia, they went up, thatís automatic and they jumped ahead of us. So girls like Ga Young Kim now are learning from, how to hold a cue stick correctly. Not by trial and error and wasting three years but having some body help her right from the start teaching her both mental toughness and the physical aspects of the game and how to think the game and everything else and I think that is really showing up in how good both the menís and womenís side, how good these players really are.
It makes no sense if you donít get instructions, because thatís like saying that Tiger Woods sucks because he actually goes to a tournament and gets a lesson once in a while.
D"C"A: Tiger, the best golfer in the world gets training Ė so why shouldnít we or you or me.
Ewa: Exactly. Itís no different than Ė the minute we stop growing youíre done
D"C"A: Yes, you stop learning, and itís over. Do you have anything to add?
Ewa: Iím forever, forever, forever grateful to Brunswick Billiards who back in the late 80ís, before I was ranked #9 or whatever I put up, to sign me on and let me actually have this as my profession and support my daughter. I am forever grateful to my husband, to Mitch, for supporting me, and helping me out and my daughter for being patient and understanding when Mom has to go out of town, and to the WPBA, all the women that have been so instrumental in taking this sport to where it is now. We always had the dream that someday weíd actually make a living playing pool and itís happening and thereís aspiring pros coming up now that, it may not be in my lifetime but it may be shortly thereafter or at least not in my career, that men or women players can actually, the top 20, the top 30 can make a good living from playing on the tour.