- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

RACINE, Wis. (AP) - If there is any doubt where pool stands with Frank Stellman, swing open the door to his cluttered domicile on Taylor Avenue.

In the middle of a dimly lit, wood-paneled room lined with aging, framed photographs, autographs, movie posters and Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, looms the pool table.

The table, which takes up most of the room, has seen perhaps thousands of games on its worn green felt during the past quarter-century. It’s just one of a hundred tables on which Frank “Sailor” Stellman has honed his billiards game during the past seven decades with a singular determination.

The Journal Times (http://bit.ly/1MaXZ8B ) reports that Stellman has owned and operated pool halls, traveled with and studied world champion pool players, crafted custom-made cue sticks, promoted pool tournaments and has become a legendary, demanding instructor to a disciple-like contingent of elite championship players.

His love of the game - especially for mentally and physically challenging straight pool - landed him in the Straight Pool Hall of Fame last year.

“He’s 100 percent, 24 hours a day, seven days a week about pool. He’s into pool more than anyone I have ever known or ever will know,” said former Racine resident Bonnie Arnold, an erstwhile student of Stellman’s, one-time state champion and a premier player. “He wakes up to pool and goes to sleep to pool. He’s excited to play pool every day and you can see that excitement.”

Stellman is 88. Diabetes has ravaged his body. An operation on his left foot in 2013 landed him in a wheelchair. Occasionally he gets up and walks around his pool table as rehabilitation. He lost sight in his right eye six years ago. He struggles to grasp items with the fingers of his numb and gnarled hands. But his hearing is sound, his mind razor sharp and his passion for straight pool unbridled and perhaps unrivaled.

In straight pool, every ball counts for a point. Players pocket any ball they want as long as they call it first. When only one object ball remains on the table, the player re-racks the remaining 14 balls and continues his run. Games usually go to 125 or 150 points.

Once Stellman saw straight pool, at age 15, he was hooked.

“I was inoculated with chalk dust and it got in my veins,” Stellman remembered. “I heard the click of the balls and that was it. I was fascinated.”

While his pals fooled around at Uptown Billiards on Washington Avenue, Stellman was focused. “I didn’t want to be one of the guys having fun,” he said. “I wanted to be a pool player.”

So started hours, weeks and years of practice and drills. He spent 16 hours a day at the table, unlocking the secrets of straight pool. He wouldn’t quit each day until he ran 100 balls in a row - the gold standard in pool, akin to a 300 game in bowling.

Later, he owned and operated his own pool room, Sailor’s Grille and Recreation. The joint had nine tables, with one reserved for players who ran 100 balls. He befriended pool legend Willie Mosconi, driving him to personal appearances across the Midwest and studying at his bended elbow.

“He was the greatest player to walk the planet,” Stellman said. “It was an honor just to stand by him. You hoped something would drip off him and fall onto you.”

Mosconi holds the recognized world record by running 526 balls in 1954. Stellman, who reckons he has run 100 balls probably more than 1,000 times, has never revealed what his personal best is.

“Did I beat Mosconi? No,” he said. “But I came awfully, awfully close.”

While Stellman was an elite player, he became practically peerless as an instructor. Students have traveled from Vermont, California, Scotland and England, hoping to cull the pearls of pool wisdom from Sailor Stellman. Nearly 20 of his students have made runs of 100 balls.

His instructional style is not for the faint of heart.

“I can holler,” he admitted. “I ask players how far they want to go. I want them to tell me they want to be champions.”

Arnold, who has worked with Stellman on and off for years, said Stellman helped her perfect a straight pool break shot, which in turn helped her make a 71-ball run.

“I feel very honored to be able to have that time with him because I know there are some people who never will,” Arnold said.

Former Madison resident Mark Wilson did, trekking two hours from the state capital to Racine to learn from Stellman. Wilson went on to write a book, “Play Great Pool,” and credits Stellman extensively for developing techniques and drills designed to make a good pool player great.

“Only someone that has lived for the game could convey such enthusiasm and have such influence,” Wilson wrote in his book.

Even today, players sojourn to Stellman’s door and walk into that cluttered room dominated by the pool table. They come seeking the wisdom and knowledge of a Hall of Fame master. As the years pass, and his health declines, Stellman finds it harder to impart his precepts. But he will never stop trying to create excellent pool players.

“As long as I can make a ball, I want to be around,” he said. “When I can’t make one, then I can go. Until then, I just want to keep hearing the click of the balls.”

___

Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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