Joseph Mejia with John Hartley (left) and Steve Mallendar (right) in Cue Zone in York
Snooker is becoming an increasing global sport, but has yet to crack the American market. But one World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) coach has high hopes for a boom in popularity across the Atlantic (Josh Robinson writes).
San Francisco-born Joseph Mejia, the only official American coach, has decades of experience in spreading the word about snooker across the globe.
“When I was a young lad there were 12-foot snooker tables all over America,” recalls Mejia, who is in York this week working in Cuezone at the Betway UK Championship. “These tables were an inch and a half lower and the cut of the cushions and type of cloth were a little different. I was lucky at six or seven years old to learn snooker in a Boys Club. We had two snooker tables in there and that’s when I got hooked. It’s in my blood forever.
“I’ve been a professional snooker coach with World Snooker for many years, promoting snooker here but also in North and South America. I started coaching in San Francisco but I went on to coach internationally, all over the world – Caribbean, South America, Canada. I always coach with international, World Snooker rules. I’m hoping to get involved with the Cue Zone Into Schools next year.
“There’s an uphill battle in the US because we’re always competing against Pool Billiards. One of the main reasons the sport has not been popular there yet is because it all started back in the early days when there was Pool Billiards instead of snooker.
“In the US, the most popular areas for snooker are the East and West Coast, particularly San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. These places have more people from Europe and Asia, where there is a tradition of snooker. There are a few tables in Chicago, probably because of influence from Canada. In the Mid-West it’s very rare to find any snooker tables – that’s the problem.
“American Cue Sports, the organisation which represents snooker and Carom Billiards in North America, has sponsored me to set up a couple of English snooker tables in a few Las Vegas casinos and we’ve already done some promotional events there. One of the plans in the future, in the next year or two hopefully, is to have big promotional events there with World Snooker.”
But are there any promising players in the US ranks to drive up national interest?
“At this point we don’t have any top playing talent coming through,” revealed Mejia. “We have a couple of professional Pool Billiard players who have potential but they haven’t changed their technique to be as precise as is required for snooker. The margin for error in snooker is much smaller than in Pool Billiards. If they dedicated themselves and changed their technique they might have a chance. But we do need some new, young talent.”
In fact a 14-year-old player from Los Angeles called Rex Fallah is currently practising at the famous Star academy in Sheffield, where the likes of Ding Junhui, Xiao Guodong and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh are based.
“Ever since I have been here, it’s a blast, the tables are great,” said Rex. “One of my friends in LA had a table in his house, so I just started playing there.
“It’s good, all the professionals are here, and you can see how good you need to be to turn pro. I just want to see how good I can be in the month I am here.”
National governing body the United States Snooker Association (USSA) oversees the maintenance and development of the sport in the USA. It has put on annual National Championships since 1991, where each year’s finalists are selected to represent the country at the IBSF (International Billiards and Snooker Federation) World Championship.
“In the future I’d love to see a pro event staged in the US,” Mejia said. “The problem is to get sponsorship and backing as it depends on the funding. I would like to see this happen in the next couple of years but realistically it’s probably a little longer – maybe we could create some ideas to accelerate the process though. WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson is targeting global impact and that’s what we want.”