Sidewinders Infested With Pool Sharks

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There's a plaque hanging in Tony Gianndrea's bar in Pine that people are talking about.

In fact, at least 14 people compete every Wednesday to earn the right to have their name etched on one of the little bronze plates on the "Champion of Champions" plaque mounted beside the bar.

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Carol McMillan and her boyfriend, owner of the Sidewinders Saloon in Pine, host a pool tournament every Wednesday night, which brings out not only competitors, but spectators as well.

The Sidewinders Saloon owner and his girlfriend, Carol McMillan, sponsor an Eight-Ball Pool Tournament every week in which anyone over 21 can participate.

The tournament has become so popular in Pine that even non-players come to watch every week, especially during the championship round, McMillan said.

The tournament consists of eight weeks of regular play and is capped off with an eight-player championship round. The players with the highest points after eight weeks of tournament play participate in the championship round, tournament organizer Pat Lunsford said.

The winner of the championship round, the "champion of champions," wins $100 and has his or her name added to the plaque, McMillan said.

"Most people care more about having their name on that plaque than the $100," she said.

Each Wednesday, players sign up, offer their five-dollar fee and are randomly selected to play against each other, McMillan said.

Points are earned based on performance in the double-elimination tournament each week. Players are awarded two participation points and eight additional points for a first-place finish, seven points for a second-place finish and so on. The highest number of points a player can earn in a given week is 10, Lunsford said.

Even though participation is voluntary and players don't have to play every week to be eligible for the championship tournament, most players adamantly attend when Wednesday rolls around.

"All of us are here," Lunsford said. "I don't miss unless I absolutely have to."

McMillan said that the tournament has up to 24 people in it every week.

The tournament is currently in the third week of its fourth session. Bret daCosta, Lunsford and Kenny Hunter have already earned a coveted spot on the plaque.

The core group of players said they have developed a close friendship with one another, despite the spirited rivalry they share.

"We've all gotten acquainted and become very good friends," Lunsford said. "Even though we're all very competitive."

The tournament is always open and new players are always welcome, Lunsford said.

"You don't even have to know anything about pool," she said. "Everyone is welcome to come play. It's a lot of fun."

Player Chuck Collins said that the pool group was the first place he met people when he and his wife moved to Pine about six months ago.

"I was eating dinner and they invited me to play," he said. "I met at least 50 people that night. They were more like a welcoming committee."

McMillan said she and Gianndrea plan on continuing the tournaments until players stop showing up.

Judging by the numerous blank plates on the "Champion of Champions" plaque, that won't be for a while.

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