For many, pool is a game to be played after a few drinks on a weekend night. But, for the Young Guns, it has become a way of life.
With a playoff win two weeks ago over Chopstix at Smitty's bar in Sausalito, the team finished third in a league filled with seasoned veterans and talented players. The victory was made all the more impressive given that five years ago, in the team's first season, they posted a dismal 0 - 12 record. Team captain and co-founder Aaron Varn feels his team's past makes its playoff run this year all the more impressive.
"Starting from the bottom five years ago, if we slipped up at all, it was game over. Now we've beaten all the teams that used to take us for granted," he said.
The Marin Bar Pool League, older than most of the members of the Young Guns, was formed in 1979 by Bruce Bennitt, Wayne Colburn, and Alan O'McIsac. At that time, there were six teams that played out of the various Marin bars including Smitty's, The Silver Peso, and 2 AM Club.
One of the original rules was no guns or knives allowed, said current league president Wesley Knitter. Since then, the league has expanded to 16 teams with over 110 participants from 11 bars that range from Novato to Sausalito. The Young Guns are one of our local team,s playing out .
The Fairfax-based Young Guns' biggest win this season was in their first playoff match, played at Pete's 881 in San Rafael against the excellent Los Borrachos team. They toppled the perennial playoff contender 8-6 in a match that started heavily in the Guns' favor but was ultimately decided by a scratched eightball in the 14th round. The following week they lost to eventual 2011 champions Loose Rack out of the Pint Size bar. Tuesday, the team traveled to Smitty's to face Chopstix for third place honors, which they secured with an 8-3 match that saw the Guns win their last six games straight.
Now their sights are set on next year's championship.
All that seem a little much for a game played in bars?
The league plays a full regular season and from those results two brackets are seeded for three weeks of tournament play. At the end, there is an awards banquet that with food, trophies, and prize money rotated from bar to bar.
And, it's a league -- like any sport -- with underdogs, favorites, practices, and big dreams.
"We're the young guys," explains player Ronnie Selak. "Other teams used to call us the Young Pups. Now, they know we can compete with anyone."
The Young Guns embody their team name, their roster filled with players noticably younger than most of the league's other squads. Most of the team are in their mid-twenties and Varn confesses that at the conception of the Guns his only priority was finding enough people his age to commit to playing pool every Tuesday night.
Now, as the third place finishers, the Young Guns have a lot to look forward to. Aside from about $500 in winnings, moments like player Brandon Johnson's impressive eight ball run in the Los Borrachos match will stick in teammates' (and fans') minds for some time to come. Even Knitter has taken note of the new boys on the block.
"[The] Young Guns are a newer team that is showing great potential and each season they get better. They just need more experience," said the league president.
And experience is what the Guns finally have. With a new season just around the corner, and a repeat roster for the first time in their team's history, the moment seems ripe for the upstart kids from Fairfax to take their stab at the title. Varn is ready to see his group reach their full potential.
"We went from being the team that everyone took as a guranteed win to being a team people are scared of," said Varn.
After casting a quick glance at the trophy, which was on display at Peri's for the championship match between hometeam Terrapins and Loose Rack, Varn knew that someday soon his team's name would grace its golden skin.
"Our team is a force to be reckoned with," said Varn.
To learn more about the Marin Bar Pool League, visit http://marinbarpoolleague.net. During the season, The Young Guns play their home games out of Peri's Silver Dollar in Fairfax on Tuesday nights.