Like curling on concrete: Shuffleboard players compete at Riverside
If you go
When: 9 a.m. Tuesday mornings and 6 p.m. Wednesday nights.
Where: Riverside Park, 2600 Parkside Drive, Janesville. The courts are at the end of the park road, behind the ball diamond and next to the river.
Cost: Free. All are welcome.
JANESVILLE Scrape, slide, clack, laughter.
For shuffleboard players, those are the sounds of summer.
On Tuesday mornings and Wednesday nights, shuffleboard players gather at the far end of Riverside Park for several rounds of the game.
The informal league—anyone can join in the play—is another one of Riverside Park’s little secrets, but league members wish everybody knew about it.
Sandy Hendricks, who grew up in one of the homes that are part of the park, remembers when Riverside had several shuffleboard courts, and the game had an active following.
Several years ago, Hendricks, a founding member of the Friends of Riverside Park group, restored one of the courts with her own money.
“It was a present to myself,” she said.
The friends group renovated the remaining courts, and Hendricks wrote and received a grant to buy equipment.
The game involves using a stick to slide a pluck across a 39-foot-long smooth concrete slab. Each end of slab has a scoring triangle divided into smaller trapezoids. Players can score seven, eight or 10 points, and they also can lose 10 points by landing in “10” or “off” sections at the bottom of the scoring triangle.
Players try to score points while at the same time try to knock their opponents out of scoring position or, even better, into the minus-10 point areas.
There’s a certain music to the game: The scrape of sticks launching pucks, the rasping slide of the pucks across the concrete and the clack of the pucks as they smack into each other.
Those sounds are almost always followed by “Oooooos”, “Ohhhhhs” and, more often than not, the self-deprecating laughter of a player who has just launched his or her own puck into the minus-10 spot.
At Riverside, such sounds are often accompanied by those of singing birds, boats on the river and the crisp crack of the bat at the park’s ball diamond.
League players are a friendly bunch of competitors, the kind who want to win but aren’t bothered if they lose.
Shirley and Orville Sowatzki play shuffleboard during their winter trips to Florida. Both have considerable skills but different styles.
Shirley appears relaxed and cheerful while Orville looks like he’s concentrating every ounce of mental and physical energy into his delivery.
Don Randall and his grandson, Ben Randall, 12, recently were playing against each other on the end court. Don is a former curler, and Ben curls at Blackhawk Curling Club in Janesville.
A lot of people say curling is like shuffleboard on ice. Does it work the other way around, too?
Both Randalls agreed the answer was “sort of.”
“You can do more with the stone,” said Don, turning his hand in the air to illustrate the turn of the curling stone.
Ben said shuffleboard is a little like curling with a stick. Curlers who have trouble with the standard delivery use a long stick that attaches to the handle of the stone.
Some of the strategy is similar, as well, they said. Players can block or take out other pucks, or they can use one of their own pucks to protect their other ones from being taken out.
As in curling, the game is about angles. Ben did a crisp double take-out of his grandfather’s pucks. In order to do so, he had to calculate where to hit the first puck in order to make it bounce off the second.
Ben claimed it was an accident, but he was probably being modest.
Both Randalls say they enjoy the game.
“It’s nice to have something to do with my grandson,” Don said.
But who usually wins, and does Don ever deliver sympathy shots to help Ben win?
“No, there’s no sympathy here,” he said. “I win some and he wins some.”
With that the Randalls simply looked at each other, smiling and laughing as the rasp and clack of pucks continued behind them.