By Kyle LoJacono
In the Florida Shuffleboard Association’s (FSA) 83-year history, only one woman has ever scored 1,000 career points. Zephyrhills resident Joan Cook plans to soon make it two.
Cook has amassed 895 points since she started playing 16 years ago. Players earn points for finishing near the top of state-sanctioned events and Cook is likely to crack the 1,000-point mark in two years, especially considering how dedicated she is to the game.
“Other than shuffleboard, I don’t do a whole lot,” Cook sad. “It’s my life.”
The Betmar Acres resident takes a break from the sport each summer, but is a regular sight at the RV park’s shuffleboard courts. There is something about the strategy, clanging of the discuses and spirited nature of the game that keeps her coming back.
“I started because I thought I’d be good at it,” Cook said. “As it’s turned out, I have been. I’ve always been competitive, so I want to play something that I can win at. I love sports, and it’s a good way to stay active.”
Cook grew up playing baseball and bowling. She was born in Ontario, Canada and first came to Zephyrhills 25 years ago. She never expected to come anywhere near 1,000 points when she first picked up a shuffleboard cue.
“The goal wasn’t to get to 1,000 points,” Cook said. “It was to get to 200 points to get into the state hall of fame, which I did (in 2003). … There is the social part of it, but mostly I love to win. It certainly isn’t about the money, because it costs more to travel to the tournaments than you can get if you win.”
Cook has played in the state masters tournament, for only the top eight men or women in the state, 10 times and won it three times. She has also claimed eight national and three international championships.
Two of those titles came with Earl Ball, whose 15 national titles are tied for the most all time.
“We won two mixed doubles national championships in Hendersonville, N.C.,” said Ball, who lives in Betmar. “We also won the only two mixed doubles state tournaments two years in a row, and no other team has ever done that. So that makes four state championships. I’d say we were very successful together.
“She’s dead serious and a hard worker,” Ball added. “She expects the very best out of herself. If she isn’t playing well, everyone knows about it too. She doesn’t accept mediocre.”
Ball said Cook has benefited from playing in so many mixed doubles events.
“She comes and plays with and against men often, so her game is tailored to a man’s style of play,” Ball said.
Ball explained women shuffleboard players tend to focus on hitting their opponent’s discus out of the way. Men usually employ several game plans to win, such as setting up blocks or working to put people in the kitchen, the section of the court that deducts 10 points from their score.
“That means she has a lot of different ways to win when she plays against women,” Ball said. “They don’t know what to do when she has more tricks up her sleeve.”
Cook is back on the fast track toward 1,000 points, but personal heartbreak almost derailed her chance. Her husband Richard Cook died in 2009.
“That was the saddest thing that could have happened to me because he was my biggest supporter,” Cook said. “I took a year off after that, or I probably would have already had the 1,000 points.”
Cook said she and her husband played shuffleboard a lot.
“I actually got him into it,” Cook said with a laugh. “I had to teach him how to play. We played as a team together in amateurs and never won anything. He was the typical man doing whatever he wanted on the court. I’d get so mad at him sometimes because we’d have a match won, and then he’d do whatever he wanted, and we’d lose it in the end. He drove me nuts, but as soon as we were off the court, we’d love each other again.”
Once Cook gets to 1,000 points she said her focus will shift toward helping others improve their own shuffleboard game.
“Once I get the 1,000 points, I’ll help people get into the hall of fame,” Cook said. “I’ll team with some of those who are close and try to help them win enough points to make it.”
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