BY DR. BARBARA J. MCLEAN-SMITH
OCOEE – The American Pool Checkers Association (APCA)’s newly appointed president, Albert Harrison ushered in a new Public Relations Officer in July, 2023, our own, Kenneth (Ken) Thompson of Ocoee, FL. The APCA held its 2023 Tournament in Columbia, South Carolina, July 10-12, 2023. Harrison and Thompson’s goals, as the newly appointed Public Relations Officer, are to rekindle the love of pool checkers by getting the word out and engaging men, women and children, to once again make the sport as popular as it once had been. Ken’s aim is to help revitalize a game that, in recent years, has become less popular. Ken’s mission is to renew the prevalence of Pool Checkers throughout Orlando, Ocoee and the surrounding areas
“Pool Checkers” was established because “Straight Checkers” was much too slow. According to the Detroit players and APCA history, Pool Checkers can be traced back to “Detroit Michigan where two men, John Otis and Dr. Nathaniel Leach visualized organizing players into a strong single body”. The fun of the game was to “out-wit, out think, out move, and out talk each other.”
Many young people no longer dedicate time and energy into board games and most especially, checkers. What was once seen in almost every neighborhood, under trees, on street corners, in back and front yards, and in barbershops and almost anywhere one could find a checkerboard, there would be a game being played.
The critical thinking skills that the “Old Guard (OGs)” reminisce about and owned whenever they played are things of the past. “Seasoned” citizens are still invested in the game. Yet, we are hard pressed to find today’s youth who either know the game or who may not have ever seen a game other than in a movie (film) set in the rural south.
Pool Checkers also known as “draughts” and “straight” checkers is a game very popular throughout America, mainly in the southeastern states. American Pool Checkers, one of the variants of the game of Draughts, is popular in the USA, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and in some countries of Africa. In the 1960’s, the American Pool Checkers Association (APCA) was instituted by a group of players who lived, loved, and breathed the game.
“Organizations like the APCA are typically formed by passionate individuals within a community or a sport who come together to promote, standardize, and organize activities related to their shared interest. Over time, the organization might grow and develop a governing structure, rules, and guidelines to ensure the proper functioning and development of the game or sport.”
Ken Thompson has goals to make “Pool Checkers” common in every neighborhood. He believes that if we can get more people in each community to, once again play checkers regularly, we may have an avenue to decrease the crime and perhaps eradicate the senseless violence that have become commonplace. Pool checkers and straight checkers tournaments are still being played as was seen this July in Columbia, South Carolina. A “gathering or pool club” of Pool Checkers players in Apopka FL has scheduled a tournament in August, 2023.
There are many tournament players who have been and are consistent champions in their communities and across the United States. Today, one may find tournaments in towns wherever players may have traveled and decided to play, mainly, Georgia, South Carolina and Jacksonville, FL. There are names like, Alfred (East Point) Barnett, Calvin (Iron Claw) Monroe, Big Willie Robinson, Michael Jordan and George (Concrete) Few who have walked away with “bragging rights” as being the best and “unbeatable” players in the game. These men’s names are synonymous with the history “Pool Checkers”.
Pool Checkers has only stuck around over the years, Barnett says, “because certain people wouldn’t let it go”, players like himself Jordan and Monroe at the Georgia Pool Checkers Association. It’s hard to find information about how pool checkers came to be. The game’s history has been passed down from older players to younger ones and was rarely put into writing. But most players in the pool checkers community believe its origins trace back to the time of slavery.
“In the South, players were just playing checkers. They didn’t have any specific knowledge as to the how and why of the game. It was just a foreign thing to do.” Mostly men would play and play sometimes throughout the night fully focusing on the win.
According to Ken, “Pool Checkers help to avoid distractions; help with memory and aid in dementia. The game requires concentrated skills. One must focus on the game as each man is responsible for his own game.”
In Orlando’s neighborhoods of Washington Shores on Columbia Street, Parramore, Lake Lorna Doone and other gathering locations, you may occasionally find a checkers game being played.
Ken Thompson would like to see “older men” mentor the younger ones in the game. There are professional men to include doctors, attorneys, pastors and others who are members of the American Pool Checkers Association. Ken is looking to approach these men to help in the recruitment of the younger ones. He will be visiting Recreation Centers, churches, and other groups like the 100 Black Men, the sponsors of ‘Men of Tomorrow’, Boys and Girls Clubs and Jack and Jill, to name a few.
Pool Checkers and Straight Checkers are a part of our American Black History. Let us keep this part of who we are in the eye of the public. We must continue to tell our story and the legacy of American Pool Checkers is certainly one such chapter in our Black History.