Another Male Bastion Falls by the Wayside : Women Get a Break in Pool

Times Staff Writer

When Pauline Caporaso was a teen-ager, she walked through her father's pool hall every day to catch a glimpse of the men playing billiards. Although she would have liked to join them, she never tried, because "it wasn't something ladies did back then."

Today, however, Caporaso, 60, can be found every Monday afternoon with nine other women, ages 54 to 73, making bank shots and sinking eight-balls at the West Covina Senior Citizen Center.

They are members of a pocket billiards class created for women 50 and older.

"Shooting pool was a man's game when I was growing up," said 73-year-old Helen Hemsley as she lined up the cue stick with the ball. "We sewed, cooked and maybe played croquet."

The desire to learn what had been a forbidden game is the reason most of the women decided to take the class, they said.

"It's a different sort of game," said Lorraine Peterson, 65, a retired crafts distributor from West Covina. "I don't even know any women who play."

"That's nothing," said Agnes McCauley, 73, of Covina. "I'd never even seen a pool table or a game of pool on television until I started this class."

McCauley, a retired Sees Candy employee, has taken the eight-week class three times but confessed that she had dropped out before.

"This is all still new to me," McCauley said as she attempted to knock a ball into a side pocket. Missing the ball completely, she said, sighing, "I don't think I'll ever be serious competition for anyone."

Peterson said she never would have learned to play pool had she not heard about the class while taking a pinochle class at the center.

Peterson and Geri Otterbeck, 69, and Doris Riley, 68, of Covina were at the senior center one day when the idea for the billiards class came to them.

"We were sitting around playing pinochle, watching the fellows play pool and listening to them have a good time," Riley said. "We were listening to the balls sink in, and all of a sudden Geri said, 'I can teach you all how to play that.' She's been trying to do that ever since."

Otterbeck, who had played pool regularly in the 1960s, said she was "a little rusty" when she started to teach the class last February.

Undaunted, she made lists of billiard rules, regulations and etiquette. She passed out cue sticks and chalk cubes and began her lessons.

"That first class was a riot," said Peterson, who has attended every class since it began. "I didn't even know how to hold the stick then, but I'm getting better because I've been listening to the fellows who play here."

Before the class began, Otterbeck said, the men were dead set against giving up one of "their" pool tables to the women, even for one afternoon a week.

"There are three pool tables here and they wanted them all," Otterbeck said. "I don't know what we are going to do if we get more students. I don't know if they'll let us have an extra table or not."

"Their edginess goes back to that same old idea that nice women aren't supposed to play pool and to the fact that they didn't want to lose a table," Caporaso said.

However, the men have become accustomed to seeing women on what they had regarded as their turf.

The women pay $2 for each class session. Class meets Mondays from 2 to 4 p.m. in the billiard room at the center. The men use the other two tables, sometimes stopping to root for members of the class.

Several rooted for Dodie Kinch, 66, of La Puente, as she took her turn. Kinch, who two weeks ago retired as an electrical technician, is new to the class and hadn't quite gotten the hang of measuring her shots.

"I'm excited about this," she said, tapping the ball lightly. Very slowly, it rolled into a corner pocket.

Delighted with her first day's accomplishments, Kinch bought a cue stick and said she plans to practice on her kitchen table because "I want to be good at this."

Recently widowed, Kinch enrolled in the class to enjoy the game with her daughter-in-law, who plays regularly. "We thought it would be fun to play together, but I have to get the hang of it first," she said. "I need to keep busy now that my husband has passed away. I don't want to just sit around and be sad all day long."

"It's encouraging to see these women coming here," said Patrick Ortiz, the staff assistant in charge of pool leagues at the senior citizen center. "Now that we know there is an interest, we'll probably be able to start a women's league here next year."

Peterson said she's looking forward to that.

"I don't want to just play in the class, I want to play outside the class too," she said. However, she doesn't want to have to "go to one of those beer parlors with pool tables just to play a few games," although she said she might.

"I'm going to play this game all the time once I get the hang of it," said Paula Dray, 54, of West Covina.

For Dray that will be easy. The family has a pool table at home and although she has never done more than walk by it in the past, she can't wait to see her family's expressions when her first eight ball falls into the corner pocket.

"My husband doesn't know I'm taking this class. He thinks I'm out shopping," she said as she prepared to hit the ball. She eyed the ball nervously, crouched, pulled her arm back and pushed the stick forward with such force that the ball flew in the air.

Dray may not give Minnesota Fats a run for his money or win a game against her family just yet, but with a few more sessions she may be on her way.

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