Shelton’s pool team wins title; headed to nationals in Las Vegas

Photo of four men standing behind a pool table

Al Shelton (second from left) in 2014.

Al Shelton (senior application developer, ITSMO) is the captain of a 9-ball pool team that recently won a qualifying tournament for the chance to play for the World 9-Ball Championship. He and his team will be in Las Vegas, NV, on August 13-17, 2019, to try to bring the title to Georgia.

The team, named “Santa Says” because Al’s other pastime is being a professional Santa Claus, plays in the American Poolplayers Association (APA) out of Stars and Strikes in Cumming, GA, on Thursdays. They have been together as a team for about a year.

In the APA, players are described with a skill-level designation, similar to the way golf handicaps work, through which players of varying skill levels are able to play against one another competitively. Skill levels (SL) run from 1 (knows how to hold a cue) to 9 (grand master level). For reference, a skill level 8 won the 9-Ball world championship a couple years ago.

Side note: Al’s league has a SL-8 that, in 1995, won the Individual 9-Ball World Championship playing a SL-9 player. He won by winning the lag (when two players gently shoot their respective balls down the table and back up again, the player who gets their ball to stop closest to the head rail wins the first break of the match), breaking and running 9 racks in a row. His opponent never got to the table to shoot, all the opponent got to do was rack the balls. After his win, he was banned from APA for 10 years as they considered him a professional level player after that performance.

Santa Says (L to R): Michael (SL-4), Cori (SL-3), Baby Jaxson (SL-0), Al (SL-6), Danielle (SL-3), Baby Victoria (SL-0), Kevin (SL-4), Mitchell (SL-3), Joe (SL-5), and Jason (SL-5)

Al is an SL-6 and his team is also comprised of two SL-5s, two SL-4s, and three SL-3s.

The team comes from a variety of professions. In the order listed on the right: Bartender/manager, hair stylist/professional nanny, IT developer/Santa, bartender/event planner, IT/telephone systems, denture maker, Spanish and Portuguese professor, and remodeler.

About the game

In a 9-Ball match, each match consists of five players playing five sets (1 player = 1 set). The skill level of the two playing the set determines the race. If a SL-5 plays a SL-3, then the SL-5 needs to sink 38 balls, while the SL-3 needs to sink only 25 balls. First one to reach their number wins the set.

Each set takes from 60 minutes to 180 minutes to complete.

About the local team championship (LTC)

Al’s team competed against 16 other teams from North Georgia in the LTC. The 16 teams each were 16-week season champs or runners up in their local divisions.

Al’s team won (earned 51 points or more) the five matches they played to win the tournament in dominant fashion, never needing to play the fifth set because they’d already clinched the win in only four sets each time.

Interestingly, Al was always listed as the fifth set competitor, so his team won the event without him playing a single game. According to Al, “Playing myself last was part of my strategy. I have complete confidence in my team, their abilities, and their clutch performances under pressure. They played well, got some lucky breaks, and took the title without me needing to do more than be the captain!”

About the World Championship in Vegas:

Winning the World Qualifier did not earn the team money, but earned them a free trip (airfare and hotel) to Vegas to compete against approximately 350 other teams from across the US.

The winning team of the World Championship gets $15,000.

The first round starts at 8:00 am every morning and the last round of the day starts at 11:00 pm. The team expects to have some long days and really short nights. The winning team will have to play 13 rounds so they are hopeful they will be playing 10-14 hours of 9-Ball for five straight days.

Al Shelton with check in hand

Al Shelton with check in hand in 2014.

About Al and pool

Al Shelton played a lot of pool in his younger days but did not play in any formal league. He quit playing from 1980 until 2012, when he joined his first pool league.

Since 2012, Al has won 109 8-Ball matches at a win rate of 59%. He started playing 9-Ball with APA in 2016, winning 48 matches at a win rate of 64%. He joined the APA Masters league in 2017 but only playing part time. He’s gone 7-5 all time in master’s matches. In 2014, Al placed 5th nationally in 10-Ball.

Al’s teams have played in 10 regional tournaments since 2014, finishing in first place only this time. They have placed 2nd twice.

For clarification, while folks at Emory know him as Al Shelton, he uses his middle name in the pool league, going by Dale Shelton.

“Playing pool is a lot like playing golf,” says Al (Dale). “Just as frustrating and aggravating, only without all the walking and losing balls.”

You can learn more about the North Georgia APA at their website.

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