A little rain doesn't stop Rick Kilby from a good game of shuffleboard at the Beardall Senior Center.
Slick with afternoon drizzle, the kelly-green courts give a slight drift to our black and yellow biscuits as they slide toward the white outline of a triangle on the opposite end. The cue used to move the discs across the cement surface is called a tang, and while a bit awkward at first, I manage to skid a yellow biscuit into the 10-point area of the triangle.
I can't be excited for too long. Pulling no punches, Kilby deftly maneuvers his tang and glides a black biscuit across the court, bumping my yellow biscuit outside the lines. Two sets later, Kilby is up by about 20 points and my game is somewhere in the negative region.
"It can get very competitive," Kilby says. "At a tournament, I once saw an 80-year-old man that just had a heart attack. He could barely walk and his stamina wasn't good, but man, he was able to put his biscuit any place on the court he wanted. He could curve it around, too. It was so amazing."
Kilby's anecdote is likely the prevailing image people have of shuffleboard. It sounds like something Sophia Petrillo might have played at the Shady Pines retirement home when she wasn't trying to plot her escape. If older people aren't using the dilapidated courts, they're often torn down and replaced with another activity.
But for the past two years, Kilby and his group, the Orlando Shuffle, have been working to change that image. Kilby grew interested in shuffleboard after a visit to the courts at the Kissimmee All-State Tourist Club before they were destroyed, and after visiting local clubs and attending a few tournaments, he became a shuffler. Every first and third Saturday of the month, a spectrum of people — toddlers and their mothers, bearded hipsters, young couples and baby boomers — come to the Beardall Center, some dressed in rockabilly fashion, and listen to the music of Miles Davis or Frank Sinatra as they shuffle under the court's twinkling bulbs.
The trend isn't unique to Orlando. In 2005, a group of young artists and preservationists restored the defunct St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, according to the club's website. In its heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, the club boasted 5,000 members and stands where people would crowd in to watch a game. The new shufflers brought their friends, music and food, and currently the club boasts 600 members. The St. Pete Shuffleboard Club inspired the opening of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn, which has a distinct Florida flair, according to the New York Times. The owners painted the courts Tropicana Cabana blue, added palm trees and installed flamingo wallpaper in the bathrooms, the Times reports.
It's not surprising if you think about it. What other sport can you comfortably play with one hand while holding a craft beer in the other?
Landy Adkins, president for the Florida Shuffleboard Association, says her organization has 50,000 members throughout the state, and increasingly, she sees younger people joining the organization too.
"I think the appeal is that it's inexpensive compared to other sports, like golf, and it's a social sport," she says. "You get to meet so many friends at these tournaments, but on the court, it's a different story. I've seen a little old lady beat a 40-year-old woman. You can't give them a minute or they'll beat your behind."
The shuffleboard courts at the Beardall Senior Center had been abandoned for a long time before the Orlando Shuffle came along, says the center's manager, Cheryl Rainsberger. At the height of shuffleboard's popularity, Orlandoans dressed elegantly to attend shuffleboard games and didn't speak while they played. When the Orlando Shuffle became interested in using the abandoned courts, shuffleboard enthusiast Commissioner Patty Sheehan helped renovate them, which included resurfacing the courts and installing lights. People and organizations have rented the courts for private shuffleboard parties and events, Rainsberger says. Last year, Victor Oladipo, a basketball player with the Orlando Magic, played shuffleboard at the Beardall Center with Grant Hill of NBA Inside Stuff.
Rick Marciano comes from Maitland every two weeks to play with the Orlando Shuffle. Few older people attend, and Marciano believes younger people are attracted to the sport because it's a respite from the online world and a chance to interact with others in person.
"It's nice to do something disconnected from the digital world," he says. "And it's a cool atmosphere with the Orlando skyline in the background and just an urban feel. It's not your grandpa's court anymore."
Erin Hearn says she often brings her 3-year-old son to the shuffleboard courts on Saturday, and sometimes her teenage stepdaughter will tag along with them. Another group, the Orlando City Shuffleboard Club, whose members "all have beards," according to Hearn, have started and often play with the Orlando Shuffle club. Hearn wants to see shuffleboard be as popular in Orlando as it is in other parts of Florida.
"I think it can appeal to a variety of different people," she says. "You get to be outside with friends, and it's pretty low-key, but still fun. I don't know, there's just something about it."
Kilby hopes Orlando will become a shuffleboard Mecca like St. Pete. For now, though, he's concentrating on increasing awareness about he game and trying to get different leagues started.
"I really want to get to where you know you have to get here early to get a court or you won't play," he says. "We haven't gotten there yet, but we could."
The Orlando Shuffle's next meeting is this Saturday, Feb. 6, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Beardall Senior Center on Delaney Avenue.
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