Sharks at any age
Quartet shoot on a different kind of green
When Elmer Blanken, Leavenworth, wants to swim with the sharks, he comes to Tonganoxie.
But only on Thursdays.
That's when the guys get together for their weekly session at the pool table in the barn at L.D. Hummelgaard's.
You know these guys know what they're doing when you hear the click of the cue on the ball, the hollow sound of the ball rolling across the table, the "Well, I'll be" coming from one of the guys, then "Elmer ain't done too bad" and then Otto Bretz adding, "He shot 'em all down."
John Dwyer, who admits to being a pool player from "way back when," said the reason Blanken drives here to play pool is simple. "There ain't no pool hall in Leavenworth."
At least not one where the ages of the four regulars adds up to 307.
And if you count the age of 15-year-old Buffy, the little golden dog that sleeps beneath a chair in dog years well
Even though all of the pool boys are of retirement age, two of them still work.
Hummelgaard, 67, is in the hay business. And Bretz, the oldest of them all at 90, still raises cattle and farms. Blanken, 70, and Dwyer, 80, are retired.
The four men are proof that pool is a game that can be enjoyed at any age.
Hummelgaard bought the pool table in 1997.
"I'd always wanted to play pool," he said. "I got the table and needed somebody to play with. Then Otto came in and we started."
Next thing they knew, Dwyer was playing pool, too.
A 1938 graduate of Tonganoxie High School, Dwyer remembers playing pool at the two pool halls on Fourth Street.
"One was beside Evans Real Estate and the other was where the post office is now," Dwyer said. That building caved in in1953.
When Ray Hunter opened a restaurant and pool hall on East Fourth Street in the 1960s, Dwyer played with a team there.
As the other two take turns playing, Bretz sits in a chair in the corner of the room. He says his game is finished and he's resting.
A smile on his face highlights his bright eyes as he calls out the shots. Bretz, too, is a player from way back. He says he began playing pool when he was a teen.
"I played lots of pool," Bretz said. "That's about all I played more pool than high school."
Bretz may look ultra relaxed when he's sitting in the corner, but watch him take the cue in hand. He leans toward the table, aims his cue at the white ball and sends it splintering through the first shot. The balls radiate to all corners of the table. For one almost magical moment, Bretz loses his poker face and grins. Then it's right back to business. No doubt about it this guy, too, is a shark.