Mae Hall, a trim, brown-haired, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed woman in her early 50s, is known in the rather special world of competitive shuffleboard as the Babe Didrikson of the game. A particularly good shuffleboard play is often referred to as "a Mae Hall shot," and when Mae practices at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club at Mirror Lake, large crowds swarm around to watch her play.
This season Mrs. Hall won eight of the 10 singles tournaments she entered and was runner-up in the other two. Included in her victories were the National Winter Singles, for the seventh time, the Full Moon Singles, the Masters and, for the sixth time, the Florida State title. She also took the Kow Kapital Women's Doubles, with Bess Henderson as her partner ( Kissimmee, Fla. is the Kow Kapital), and finished fourth in the President's Trophy Mixed Doubles. Her husband Herbert, who makes the bamboo cues she uses, was her partner. Last year Mrs. Hall won the National Women's Doubles with Mrs. Henderson and finished third in the Fun 'n Sun Mixed Doubles with Herbert. ( Clearwater, Fla. is the Fun 'n Sun city.)
In her 14-year career of serious shuffling, Mrs. Hall has won 46 singles tournaments out of 76 entered—more than anyone in the game—and has been runner-up 18 times. She has also been captain of the All-America Shuffleboard Team and has five times been Champion of Champions champion. She has finished at the top of the St. Petersburg Times "Roll of Champions"—a semiofficial ranking of Florida shufflers based on tournament records—for the past seven years. One year she tied for first with her archrival, Mrs. Mary Scalise.
The residents of St. Petersburg, the Sunshine City, take their shuffleboard seriously. It is the national game of Florida, and St. Petersburg, with more than 10,000 players and more than 200 courts, is the shuffleboard capital of the world. The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club is by far the world's largest, with 4,200 members and 107 courts. Ten of the top 11 lady players in Florida belong to the St. Petersburg club, and this year all four National Winter Singles titles—men's, women's, men's senior and women's senior—were won by residents of St. Petersburg.
Apart from social games, the city holds closed tournaments for persons 60 or older, nonwalking tournaments (for persons who don't like to walk from one end of the court to the other), tournaments for "experts" (the professionals of the game) and playoff tournaments, where the men's winner and the women's winner fight it out for the universal championship.
St. Petersburgers also are avid readers of shuffleboard news. Last year, when the St. Petersburg Times decided, for reasons of space, to cut down its shuffleboard coverage, 2,500 distraught shufflers petitioned for more lineage. The Times capitulated. There also are a shuffleboard annual in which fans can read about the year's triumphs and disasters and a book of instructions that contains shuffleboard problems.
Shuffleboard—once banned in New England in the 1840s because there was too much betting on it—is a somewhat less active sport than Indian leg wrestling, but at the tournament level it requires a sound sense of tactics, extreme accuracy in placing the disks and on occasion a good deal of explosive energy. The game, believe it or not, can be dangerous. "Board-cleaners," the Mickey Mantles of the sport, shoot so hard in clearing opponents' disks that the disks sometimes break into pieces and go hurtling all over the place. The leg of one scorekeeper was cracked by a board-cleaner's disk in a recent St. Petersburg tournament, and Mrs. Hall herself was once whacked in the ankle by a wild disk from a nearby court.
Tournament tempers are not always the most placid. In last month's Masters Tournament in St. Petersburg, one player got so incensed by a referee's call that he stormed to the tournament director's booth and swung at an official.
Block and hide
The game has its own esoteric vocabulary. A "block" is a disk placed on the court so that it interferes with a straight shot by one's opponent; a "hide" is a disk protected by a block. When a disk enters the 10-off area, it is said to be "in the kitchen." One of Mae Hall's specialties is knocking opponents' disks into the kitchen.