By Richard Rourk
The recently-concluded Unicoi County Apple Festival is one of many traditions alive and well in the Valley Beautiful.
Another notable tradition is linked with the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, and the roots of this long-standing custom dates back to 1975.
Inside the center, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at its current location at 220 Union St., Erwin, regular visitors know about one competitive tradition that encompasses the spirit of Unicoi County. For many years a group of men have met on a daily basis to play billiards on the center’s two billiard tables.
“One of these tables is from Jesse Harris’ pool hall,” explained TJ Rice, one of the men involved with the long-standing daily tradition. Rice explained that Harris’ pool hall was a former Erwin business.
“The other table was donated by the Burrell brothers, the late Frank Burrell and current pool shooter Fred Burrell,” Rice added.
The Center’s pool shooters have a diverse background and skill level.
“We have a lot of good shooters, but it’s safe to say that Carlyle Love is champ,” noted former Erwin mayor and avid pool shooter Russell Brackens said.
“We have competitive and fun match-ups every day,” Brackens said.
“When a shooter is on, they are on, and it makes for a competitive day,” Brackens added.
Love explained that his love of billiards began during his childhood.
“I started shooting pool when I was a young boy,” Love said. “I started playing again here about six or seven years ago. Russell (Brackens) had been trying to get me to come down awhile and I finally did. I really enjoy playing.”
Although the players are among the greatest of self-professed trash talkers of all time, it’s the camaraderie that brings the pool players together.
“It’s a way to fellowship and get together to talk and shoot some pool,” Love said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Speaking of trash talking, the guys are constantly hurling kind-hearted jabs at each other.
“I can’t say enough of these guys,” said John Bannister of his fellow pool players. “They are the very best of the best — the best losers in Unicoi County.”
His friends are, of course, welcome to prove him wrong. All it takes is racking the balls and shooting yet another friendly game on one of the center’s billiards tables.
Anyone interested in joining the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center and taking part in the ever-growing billiard games is asked to please visit the center during normal business hours or call (423) 743-5111.