Ready, Aim, Break: Cue the Big Shots : O.C. Teens Are Racking Up an Interest in Pool

Yuppies, beware. There's a younger school of sharks biting into your billiards fad. Their tables might not be as fancy as those at your clubs with fashionable furniture and valet parking. But they're just as ready to rack it up on a Friday night.

And they're smarter. They won't fork out $12 an hour for a game. Well, OK, so they actually can't cover the high rates. Their digs are local family pool halls, where for half the price they can shoot for thrills.

Bored with the movies or coffeehouses, high-schoolers such as Newport Harbor senior Deanna Adams are finding more than their friends at the felt-topped tables. "Pool requires a lot of concentration and thought," she notes. "A lot of times I leave here, and I can focus on things better. It's a real challenge, but it relaxes me too. I just let everything go away for a couple of hours while I'm in here."

Indeed, the conversation among her friends includes little gossip. The talk is on the plays, miserable or rad. Suggestions on strategy and technique are invited and discussed. This is serious playtime.

"You just want to keep going and learning to get better," says Deanna, 17. "It's an addicting game, though. We decide to play for an hour, and time flies by."

At first, Deanna spent more time watching than playing. Insecure about her ability, she even told her dad to forget about buying a table for the family. She couldn't be bothered with the practice it took to master the game.

That was seven months ago.

"I come here almost every day now," Deanna says. "I love playing. My dad's going to go ahead and get a table, so my friends and I will be able to save some cash." As it is, she spends almost a fourth of her paycheck every week on the game. But even the luxury of a home table won't keep Deanna and her friends from going to the family pool centers.

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Her buddy Bonnie Sitz, 15, points to the social scene. "You get to know people through challenges and from hanging out here every week." There are kids from other schools, says the Newport Harbor High sophomore, and those from her own with whom she would never otherwise connect.

Granted, but Deanna is quick to add that there's "certain kind of people who play pool, and they're not the preppies. You'll never see a smart, nerdy person here."

She's not calling her pool peers losers--though she has heard cracks from those very preppies that that is who hangs out at the halls. But her own categorizing of heavy metal fans dressed in New Age accouterments and grunge staples also proved too restricting.

An informal survey on the Saturday evening Deanna and Bonnie were at Games Plus in Costa Mesa turned up water polo players, trendy mall girls, KROQ-listening surfers and an ethnic diversity that would make the PC patrol proud. And these are not just guys: Mostly young women crowded around the tables that day and on recent weekend evenings. Some, like Bonnie and Deanna, went for the flannels and sneakers, while others were dressed to the teeth.

Of course, there are also the kind of "older" folks present that would probably fit better in a dive bar setting. Even family halls sell beer, causing parents to worry about their kids hanging around. There are Bonnie's parents, who "say it's a bad influence because they think it's a bar and there's smoking. But," she adds, "I don't come here to see people smoke and drink. I come here to shoot pool. If they'd just come down here and check it out, they'd see it wasn't a bad environment."

(As a rule, Mom and Dad, there can't be much to worry about if a teen leaves you an open invitation to stop by.)

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Even without all the young people around the pool tables, most family centers could boast a big teen clientele. Just look at the numbers standing at the video games lined against the wall. But that's a story in itself. As tempting as the electronic action is between pool games, they are a waste of money, say sharks.

"What do you get out of them?" Bonnie asks. "Pool is just so much more challenging."

So it seems if the owners of those plush pool clubs want to fill their weak weekend afternoons with more fish, they should take a cue from the country music nightclubs that have welcomed teens with incredible success. As more high-schoolers introduce their friends to this alternative hangout, the scene is certain to stick around.

* The Scene is a weekly look at the trends and lifestyles of Orange County high schoolers.

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