Published in the Hannibal Courier-Post Dec. 31, 2010
Six decades ago, Mike Clark was barely tall enough to reach over the top of the new shuffleboard table in his father's bar. But that didn't stop him from shooting pucks across the salt-sprinkled grained wood surface, and building skills and self confidence that would later earn him bragging rights as a young man.
Once, while in college, Clark won 53 straight games in a Kirksville bar.
His secret: intimidation.
He told his competitors he was the best shooter in Northeast Missouri. "Get them thinking that I was good and they would be worried about that rather than playing the game," he said.
"The object is to knock the other guy off or to out lag him," Clark said.
Typically, the loser buys the winner a beer.
His father, Gary Clark, co-owned Sportsman's bar with Francis Lily from 1949 until the end of 1953. The bar, located in the 700 block of Broadway, was originally named the Lockatina, Clark said, and was renamed by the new owners to the current name.
When the 700 block of Broadway was demolished to make way for Commerce Bank and the police station, Sportsman's Bar moved a half block away to South Seventh Street. The original bar, the counter behind the bar and the shuffleboard table were moved to the new location, and are still in service.
While he was young during this father's tenure behind the bar, Clark does have vivid memories of the establishment.
"When Dad and Mr. Lily bought the place, there was a problem with young people coming in. Dad just changed the price of a bottle of nickel coke - he was charging 50 cents for it at that time - and the young people quit showing up at the bar.
"Dad wouldn't allow cussing or foul language. Dad said it was the best time of his life, but he couldn't put up with it for long." Gary Clark later went to work as a parts man for auto shops, and retired from Harris Chevrolet. Both Gary Clark and his wife, Mildred, died in 1987.
Clark's memories of Sportsman's Bar and the shuffleboard table were triggered by two photos of the 700 block of Broadway, taken around 1950 and shared in the Days Gone By column of this newspaper just before Christmas.
"Christmas Eve, someone talked me into playing again," Clark said. It has been 15 to 20 years since he had tried his hand at the shuffleboard table.
"It's still popular for as old as it is," said Chris Daniel, the bar's current co-owner.
"One time a man came in and wanted to refurbish it, and take out all the curves.
"I thought the customers would kill me. They said, 'leave it as it is.' You don't know where the puck will end up. That's the thrill of it for the players."
There has been a lot of beer and booze spilled on it, one customer said, and maybe even some blood.
But it has never been refinished.
"It has character," Chris said.