Zephyrhills’ Earl Ball has achieved yet another milestone in what’s been a lengthy and historic shuffleboard career.
Ball, a resident of Betmar Acres, recently became just the third player to amass 1,000 career points within the Florida Shuffleboard Association (FSA) — joining Clearwater’s Glen Peltier (1,364 points) and fellow Betmar resident Joan Cook (1,049 points).
To honor the feat, the FSA last month presented the 73-year-old Ball with a commemorative green jacket — reserved only for members of the 1,000 points club.
A corresponding awards ceremony was held for Ball on Dec. 17 at Betmar Acres, attracting more than 100 guests.
Besides friends and family, shuffleboard players from all across Florida and other states gathered to celebrate Ball on his rare feat.
“It was a fabulous experience to be recognized like that,” said Ball, who sits with 1,020 points.
“When you’re living it, you never realize what’s going on around you; you never realize you’re reaching a record like that, that other people just haven’t made,” he said.
Ball began taking shuffleboard seriously after he retired from the automotive industry in 1997.
He earned “instant pro” status by 1999. (Players can earn a pro designation by accumulating five points within a three-year period at state-sanctioned events.)
Ball has averaged about 55 points per season at the state level since then.
Shufflers earn points for finishing near the top of state-sanctioned events. A first place finish, for example, nets five points.
Joining the 1,000-point club is just the latest of Ball’s many shuffleboard feats.
Ball is the current record-holder for FSA championships (115), as well as National Shuffleboard Association championships (21) and men’s national points (421).
He was inducted into the FSA Hall of Fame in 2005—reserved for players who’ve accumulated at least 200 points.
He’s since achieved Hall of Fame status at the district, national and international levels, as a player.
Shuffleboard, or floor shuffleboard, is a game in which players use cues to push weighted discs, sending them gliding down a narrow court, with the purpose of having them come to rest within a marked scoring triangle-shaped area — where different parts of the triangle are worth different points. Matches can be played in singles or doubles.
It has developed a cult following in Florida, particularly among retirees and elderly.
Ball said his shuffling success was born out of a serious commitment to the game.
For many years, the retiree would play eight hours a day, six days a week, year-round.
The countless hours of practice and playing in matches allowed him to apply all kinds of strategies and learn the sport’s nuances.
“I would listen to everybody,” Ball said, “and I became an expert in the rules.”
Though he longer follows such a rigorous schedule, Ball acknowledged he still plays “more than most people” — usually five or six days a week.
That includes playing in numerous events throughout Central Florida, as well as tournaments in places like Hollywood, Fort Pierce, Fort Myers, Melbourne and Leesburg.
For Ball, the game is more than just “a bunch of old people pushing discs back and forth.”
Instead, he describes it as a “physical chess game.”
“It takes you back to your young days of sticks and stones, and bats and balls, and everything else in the field,” he said.
Personal accolades notwithstanding, Ball’s greatest satisfaction comes when he teams with novice players and helps them earn their first wins.
That happened most recently on Jan. 3, when Ball teamed with Zephyrhills resident Walt Shine to win a New Year’s tournament in Clearwater.
“To see how happy they are that they won — it’s that kind of thing that’s just really a thrill for me,” said Ball.
As a youth, Ball grew up playing just about every sport competitively year-round. From baseball, basketball and football, to wrestling and cross-country, Ball “always had something going on.”
He also became a “near scratch” golfer as an adult.
That drive remained as Ball’s grown older, but with a focus on shuffleboard.
When asked what keeps him playing regularly, Ball said: “That’s what I do. I’m a competitive athlete; have been all my life. So, that’s just me.”
And, he doesn’t plan on changing his ways anytime soon.
Ball strives to one day surpass Peltier as the state’s all-time points leader.
As a means to extend his shuffleboard career — and maintain his health and wellness — Ball can regularly be found at the local YMCA lifting weights several days a week.
“I do a lot of things that people don’t see to keep myself in shape to compete with other people, and hopefully that will allow me to continue the way I am,” Ball said.
Published January 10, 2018