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Pool sharks pick up their cues

Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center aims to please with friendly games

Posted: June 28, 2009 9:20 p.m.
Updated: June 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Gay Engle takes a shot at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. Gay Engle takes a shot at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
Gay Engle takes a shot at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
Fran Sanchez is a shark.

The 78-year old former CAD engineer doesn't look threatening, but get him near a pool table and it's quite a different story.

Sanchez makes four shots in a row and calls out the 8 ball. When the ball stops short of the pocket, a series of howls fills the room.

"You're still my hero," said Harry Gratz, 91, of Valencia.

"It's your shot, Harry Potter," Sanchez responded.

Sanchez and Gratz are just two of the regular pool players at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, where games are free and friends are made easily.

The center offers its one-room pool hall to players five times a week.

Some in the hall have played the game for decades, while others picked it up after retirement.

Sanchez has only been playing pool seriously since 1999. He casually played 50 years ago in the Philippines.

He comes to the Senior Center three times a week to hone his skills.

"I didn't know what else to do after retiring," Sanchez said.

What does he like most about the game?

"Beating my opponents," he said with a smile.

When Gay Engle, 71, of Valencia, was a young man in the Philippines, he made billiard tables but didn't play much.

Today, the retired security guard can be found at the senior center hall Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., only taking a break for lunch.

It's a habit that's lasted 15 years. To Engle, pool is a "brilliant" game that keeps him sharp.

"Your aim or target must be good, you have to be very effective where you put the balls," he said.

"Whatever moves you make here, you have to concentrate properly."

Engle takes his turn at the table, missing the shot.

"I'm not a loser, but I'm not the greatest, either," he said.

John Pridemore, 74, of Newhall, is one of the greatest, according to Sanchez, who ranks him an eight out of 10.

"He's stretching it," Pridemore said.

"He's just being humble," Sanchez responded.

Pridemore started playing pool as a teenager in Dearborn, Mich., and enjoys the games at the Senior Center four to five times a week.

The group rotates games as pairs, playing up to 20 times per day.

For this game, Pridemore and Sanchez are up against Gratz and Engle.

Gratz, the oldest in the group, is decked out in a Prince "Purple Rain" T-shirt and shorts.

He's a World War II veteran, wounded in the knee during a battle on an Italian beach, and founder of the Veteran's Memorial in Newhall.

The New York City native and former salesman played pool over the years while in the Army and as a civilian at the YMCA.

He makes three shots and misses the fourth. Disappointed grunts erupt from his team and a few bystanders, who watch intently from the sidelines.

Engle is not so fortunate. When his turn arises, he misses the shot.

Engle is unfazed, singing along to the pop standards that play overhead.

The game provides him with much more than a way to pass the time.

"The friends I have here, that's we makes me keep coming back. That's what keeps me alive," Engle said.

For more information on pool at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, call (661) 259-9444 or visit The center is located at 22900 Market Street, Newhall.


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