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History of the Game

All sports have unique histories, but few, if any, have been as affected by political and international events as shuffleboard.

Now, to research shuffleboard you don't exactly go to your 'Funk & Wagnalls' and find everything neatly compiled. So, in lieu of that, you do the next best thing -- you call Sol Lipkin. Sol's name may not come up when people are talking about the great players of the game, but if he isn't "the father of modern shuffleboard" in this country, then no one is! No one has -- or ever will -- love the game more than Sol. He's played, promoted and been involved in the manufacturing of shuffleboard for over 60 years. Even today (at age 83) he is still actively involved with the American Shuffleboard Co., in Union City, N.J.

True shuffleboard -- first called shoveboard and then, inexplicably, shovelboard -- seems to have originated in England, where there is a record of its being played in 1532, and in its earliest form consisted of shoving coins across a polished tabletop as a pastime for royalty. But the game became so popular with the masses that people stopped going to work, causing it to be banned. Shuffleboard first came to the United States around the time of the Civil War and enjoyed tremendous growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, the great hotels in Atlantic City and all the first-class hotels in the East had five or six tables right through the Roaring '20s.

Then came Prohibition. Speakeasies didn't need or want games of skill. They had been assured of all they needed to be successful in their businesses by the U.S. Congress. It was during this eight- to 10-year period that shuffleboard began to decline. Following the repeal of Prohibition, pockets of shuffleboard players began to reappear, largely on the East Coast. And the tavern industry began to change. All the bars before Prohibition had backrooms with small restaurants. But on the heels of the Great Depression, people didn't have the money to go out to eat. Gradually, some backrooms were converted to shuffleboard areas.

"It brought the people out. We were selling boards at that time for $149," said Sol, who also became a promoter. "We would set up a match (sometimes played to 75 points) and pack the place. "People would stay all day long." Leagues began to form and shuffleboard was on the move again.

With World War II, men from all across the country were routed through New York and the Northeast on their way to Europe. As a result, shuffleboard went national after the war, with soldiers bringing a love of the game back home with them. Over the next few years more than 100 companies started manufacturing boards because of the demand. The original boards were 32 feet long, but were shortened to 28 and then to 22 feet because how they were packed and shipped nationally. The weights went from heavy brass to the streamlined stainless steel of today. Sand, used to speed the boards, evolved into fine corn and silicone waxes. Regional tournaments began to take place everywhere and the first national event was held at the Armory in Springfield, Ill., in 1948, with 574 taverns represented by l0-man teams. By the mid-1950s, shuffleboard had jumped into the foreground. They were on military bases, in fraternal clubs, rehabilitation hospitals, youth clubs, town centers, seniors centers and taverns everywhere.

But despite all this popularity, the shuffleboard movement lacked a couple of key ingredients. Not having consistent rules or amateur events created a lot of in-fighting among the leaders and manufacturers. And problems couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. It was the dawn of the electronic game age. However, a very strong grassroots group of players kept the sport alive. As Sol Lipkin says: "It's the game that makes shuffleboard great." That has remained constant.

Shuffleboard has made a strong, steady climb back through this decade. This time it appears things will be different. Now, there are national rules and sanctioning; media exposure; and a policy board of professional players. Interested sponsors.

Shuffleboard finally has come full circle. A 100-percent increase in participation. New manufacturers. More than one million shuffleboards are in use. New leagues are springing up everywhere. Despite a long and sometimes bumpy history, the game has endured. Fifty or 100 years from now the "new history" will show that in the late 1980s and '90s the sport used lessons of the past and wisdom of people like Sol Lipkin to keep it growing for many, many years to come." (Reprint, Tavern Sports, June/July 1989)



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