SEBRING – Shuffleboarders from across the state descended on Highlands County to participate in the Orange Blossom Shuffleboard Tournament, one of the oldest and most prestigious tournaments in the country.
The tournament is approximately 80 years old. There were around 140 competitors and 33 courts used for the battle that was held on Wednesday and Thursday at the Sebring Recreation Club.
“This is our Orange Blossom tournament and it has been going on since the 1930s,” said Sebring Recreation Club President Harold Comeau. “We have a lot of competition with big prizes. This is a fun, tough event. This is one of our biggest events of the year. We want to bring people together. It is all about competition and the competition is tough this year. The computer generates the pairings and I was selected to go against the Avon Park president. That’s the way it goes. It is a good tournament that brings out a lot of people and everyone looks forward to it every year.”
The competition was split into two groups, the men’s division and women’s division. There were two brackets, the main event bracket and the consolation bracket.
The Men’s division main event was won by the team of Levi Miller and Larry Mardis. Ray Miller and Harold Cunningham claimed second place. The duo of Bob Comford and Jerry Stannard placed in third. The pair of Phil Rebholz and Paul Prescott claimed fourth place.
In the Consolation event, the twosome of Jacques Beaudry and Thomas Winkelspecht finished first. Bob Hovatter and Bob Smith claimed second place. Coming in third was the pair of Jerry Holbrook and Pete Sikoski. The duo of Frank Reynen and Sam Allen placed in fourth.
“When I turned 65 I joined,” said Sebring resident Pat Dell. “I played football, basketball and boxing, but shuffleboard requires the touch of a surgeon and the mind of a chess player. You have to play offense and defense. Whoever hits 75 points first wins and there is a lot of strategy.”
The Women’s main event was won by the duo of Ruth Brown and Pam Nurnberger. In second place was the pair of Glenna Earle and Linda Marshman. Coming in third was the team of Debbie Norton and Dianna Allen. Ruth Stewart and Brenda Dawson placed fourth.
“We have about 25 players in the Orange Blossom Tournament,” said Avon Park Senior Activity Center president Tom Clayton. “I started playing in this event four years ago. The first year I played as an amateur and it was colder than heck. It was in the 30s that year. This is my fourth year and I really love the competition. This is the largest tournament in the state and people come from all over. There is a lot of competition and it would be tough to miss it.
“I am the president of the Avon Park Senior Activity Center. We were founded in 1935 and we have been in continuous operation ever since. We currently have 130 members. We get together every Monday night at 6 p.m. We have new L.E.D. lights and they really make the place dazzle. We have a session on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 9 a.m and then with the snowbirds down we added a 2 p.m. session. We’ve had a big uptake in the last 18 months and we have nearly doubled in size. We have a lot of people with a lot of enthusiasm. On Wednesdays we have a $1 lunch and our membership is only $20 a year to join. We encourage newcomers.”
The Consolation event was won by the team of Pat Stockman and Sue Krynak. The duo of Edith Taylor and Odessa Miller claimed second. Joyce Smith and Alice Enos were third. Fourth place went to the pair of Joan Buck and Barbara King.
“We attract players from all over the state of Florida,” said former president Daniel Noble. “This is a pro tournament with 140 professional players with maybe a few amateurs playing up. I have been a part of this club for seven to eight years now. This club had close to 1,000 members at one point then when all these mobile home parks started building their own shuffleboard courts it diminished the need for people to come to this facility to play and our numbers dropped.
“The Sebring Recreation Club is owned by the City of Sebring and we lease it. This club is not just a shuffleboard club; we have wood carvers, line dancers, pinochle, bridge players and much more. This tournament takes two days to complete with two brackets, the Main and Consolation. We have about 25 central district and State Hall of Fame players.”
The Sebring Recreation Club and Avon Park Senior Activity Center are looking for people to come out and play. The Sebring Recreation Club has free shuffleboard every Friday night starting at 6 p.m. and all ages are welcome to join in the fun.
The Avon Park Senior Activity Center is located at 109 E. Main St in Avon Park right next to Donaldson park. The Sebring Recreation Club is at 333 Pomegranate Ave., behind the Sebring Police Department.