If you wander into Mainstreet Billiards of Zephyrhills, don’t expect a stereotypical smoke-filled pool hall. It’s a well-lit, family friendly venue that is dedicated to teaching the sport of billiards to young people.
The hall’s registered 501(c)3 arm — called Shooting For The Future — sponsors free weekly lessons for kids at seven locations in Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties.
And one player, 12-year-old Sofia Mast, of Land O’ Lakes, has emerged as a national championship-level performer.
“We figured a grassroots approach was a good way to grow the game,’’ said Brandon Butts, owner of Mainstreet Billiards, which opened in June 2019. “We started out charging $10 a week, but some kids weren’t able to afford it. The cost of lessons and equipment can add up, so our nonprofit concept evolved from there, and we’ve been able to expand to multiple locations.
“We start out by teaching them a stance, the follow-through, posture, the mechanics of the game. Through the games we play, they learn sportsmanship and they get to compete for prizes under the stress of the game. They can develop skills and learn if this is something they’d like to pursue.’’
At each facility, one player is designated as a “Shooting Star.’’ At Mainstreet Billiards, that’s Mast. And for her, the pursuit of billiards excellence has become a given.
The daughter of a billiards league player, Mast qualified for a national event after her first session. She was playing at an American Poolplayers Association (APA) level 2, but has advanced to a level 5 (the APA range goes to level 9).
“She has been playing with her dad a little while,’’ Butts said. “She just has an absurd work ethic and desire to learn. She’s like a sponge.
“When COVID hit and everything closed down for a while, she used that quarantine time to improve at home. That’s when she jumped from a level 2 to a level 5. The sky is the limit with Sofia.’’
Mast usually enters the facility’s Monday adult tournaments — competing against 24 men — and generally finishes in the top two. She competed in Lakeland’s Tiger Tour, featuring the top 36 female players in the state (all ages), and finished fifth, becoming the youngest player to place in that event.
In January, Mast won the 13-and-under division at the OTW Junior International 9-Ball Tournament in Roanoke, Virginia, while placing fifth in the 18-and-under division. During the weekend, she played approximately 100 racks of 9-ball.
How serious is Mast’s game?
Her nickname is “Pink Dagger.’’
“She has a great attitude and is a humble kid, but the fact is she can beat almost any adult around here whenever she feels like it,’’ Butts said. “She is getting exposure to some very good coaches, so she’s going to continue to improve if that’s what she wants to do. I mean, she’s 12. But at this rate, she has a huge leg up on other players in her age level.’’
Mast, who has qualified for this summer’s Junior Nationals in Las Vegas, is an example of what can happen when great talent meets superb dedication.
Overall, though, Butts said it’s also nice to build a deep base of players who want to compete on a recreational level.
“When we opened, we were seeking a family friendly pool hall,’’ Butts said. “We wanted less of a bar atmosphere and make it a place for people who actually cared about pool.
“We’ve been able to grow this into several other facilities in Zephyrhills, Plant City, Lakeland and Carrollwood. I’ve yet to walk into a venue, tell them what we’re doing and had them say they weren’t interested. We’re trying to change the image of our sport. Some parents come in and say, ‘I had no idea it was like this. I thought it was just a bar.’ We’re trying to identify the next generation of shooters and help to revive the sport.’’
For more information on Shooting For The Future, log onto ShootingFuture.org.
See Sofia Mast in action
You can find out more about 12-year-old pool player Sofia Mast and see her in action by checking out Kelli Carmack’s video on our Facebook page, at Facebook.com/LakerLutzNews/videos/ or on the front page of our website, at LakerLutzNews.com.
By Joey Johnston
Published April 07, 2021