Craig billiards team qualifies for Las Vegas tournament
Pool means more to the Motley Cue team than just nicknames and good times.
Sure, the billiards team has “Hippie,” “Weasel” and “T,” who contribute. And it’s also true they enjoy the camaraderie and time spent at the Popular Bar every week.
But, when it comes down to the sport of billiards, the team looks for good, solid competition and a chance to win as much as anything else.
Motley Cue won the Craig Billiards Congress of America City Championships on March 26 at the Popular Bar.
The victory guaranteed the team a trip to the 34th Annual BCA National Tournament on May 18 in Las Vegas.
While only one member of the six-man team has played in Vegas, the team is still looking for victory when they leave Colorado.
“We aren’t just going to Vegas for a vacation,” said Thomas Johnson, who goes by “T.” “We are going to compete and if we win, good, and if we don’t, at least we can say we tried.”
Brian Garcia captains the team, which includes Johnson, John Bishop, Jean Haskins, James Barrett and Manny Madrid.
Johnson said he’s amazed he received an opportunity to play in Las Vegas for something he long considered recreation.
“I started coming to the Pop and played with Brian and when the BCA formed, he said he wanted to form a team,” Johnson said. “We did pretty good in our first year, making it to the playoffs, but we really picked up our game in our second year to make it to Vegas.
“I had my doubts, but winning (the City Championships) was like winning the Super Bowl.”
Bishop, who goes by the nickname “Hippie” or “Hippie John,” said he was coerced into playing pool almost 20 years ago and is thankful for it.
“I came to Craig in 1977 to help build the power plants and have been here ever since,” Bishop said. “I had some friends who started playing in the early ‘90s and told me that I would play and I had no choice.”
Bishop said the competition in Craig is a good primer for what his team will see in Las Vegas.
“I have played other players from around the world and I would put anyone from (Craig) against them,” he said. “I’ve been on a few different teams here because the players are so good.”
The nickname “Hippie,” Bishop said, came from his looks when he first arrived in the area.
With long hair down his back, he said the name caught on and stuck.
“For the longest time I was called ‘Hippie John’ and I’m not sure anyone knew what my last name was,” he said.
To get the team together, Garcia, who also works as a bartender at the Popular, said he used his knowledge of some of the best players in Craig.
“Working at the bar, I have seen the players that come in on a daily basis and who like the game,” he said. “I wanted guys who know what they are doing on the table.”
Garcia said the City Championships were tougher than expected for his team.
“Going in, we anticipated the early match-ups to be easy, but we struggled,” he said. “We knew the toughest games would be against the Good Guys, who we played in the finals, and that turned out to be when we played our best.”
Garcia said all six players rotated during the day to give the team the best opportunity to win each match-up.
Bishop and Barrett are the most consistent players on the team, he said.
“James and ‘Hippie John’ have the most experience and they don’t need as much coaching,” he said. “Actually, a lot of the time they will do the coaching because they know all the shots on the table. They may not make them all, but they know them.”
Barrett is the only player on Motley Cue to have played in Las Vegas.
In 2000, he played on a team with his brother and qualified to play in Sin City.
“It is an overwhelming experience,” Barrett said of his time in Las Vegas. “There are about 500 tables in one room and over 1,500 players. But, I think we will do better than most people think we will.”
Haskins, who goes by the nickname “Weasel,” said the team’s biggest attribute is its ability to play under pressure.
“Most everyone on the team is a gambler,” he said. “We know what it feels like to play when there is a lot on the line and we perform when the pressure is on.”
Garcia said no matter the outcome in Las Vegas, he is proud of his team’s accomplishments this season and thanks all the other players in the league.
“Part of the reason we made it this far is because all the players are willing to teach and help,” he said. “Everyone has contributed to the way I play in one way or another.
“Our goal is to represent our region and area to the best of our ability.”