Friends, family and fellow shooters gathered to remember the lives of long-time pool community members John “Griz” Young, 57, and Mike Exum, 64, at the Alaska Roadhouse Bar and Grill Sunday afternoon.
Players waiting their for their next turn in the Kenai Peninsula Memorial 9-Ball Tournament kept an eye on the competition, sipped spirits and ate piles of potatoes and chicken from paper plates. The smooth click of the cue balls hitting their mark followed by the erratic thump of billiards balls sliding into table pockets punctured the social hum of the room.
Mike Exum and Young’s shooting buddies organized the event. Gary Dixon, who had been shooting with the two for two decades, MC’d.
The purpose of the day was to honor shooters of the past and help shooters of the future, Dixson said.
Richie Exum, who is married to Mike Exum’s surviving brother Wayne Exum, said the family didn’t want to hold a funeral after Mike Exum’s death. She said Wayne Exum and Mike Exum’s daughter Claire Exum are missing him.
“This is right up his alley,” Richie Exum said. “This is actually perfect.”
Young, who managed the Place Motel in Nikiski, was famous for his readiness to help people out, Dixon said.
The last time the two spoke was on Christmas Day, he said.
“Mike was a classic, out-of-the-movies hustler,” Dixon said. “Mike could make that ball move with so much English.”
The expert shooters are sorely missed, but not the only ones missing from the original group that began in the Central Kenai Peninsula twenty years ago, Dixon said.
“We’ve lost about ten people from our group in the last twenty years,” Dixon said. “Ten years ago we were shooting five nights a week.”
Half the proceeds generated from the $10 entry fee are being donated to the Kenai Boys and Girls Club afterschool after school program, said Roadhouse owner Brent Elkington.
The community Dixon, Young and Mike Exum are and were a part of is encouraging of the next generation of shooters, Dixon said. The group would sometimes pitch in cash for the younger people that want to start shooting, he said. And this could be seen in the crowd honoring Mike Exum and Young Sunday, which included players as in their early-twenties.
“Pool people all stick together,” Richie Exum said. “They really do. They all support each other.”
For the local players, the game is more than just entertainment, Dixon said. Especially in the winter, it is a lifestyle, he said.
“This is our dog mushing, this is our snow machining,” Dixon said. “It’s no fun playing pool by yourself. We are one big pool family.”
The plan is to hold the memorial tournament annually, Elkington said. Each year it will be held at a different bar and the proceeds will be donated to various local charities, he said.
“It’s not about the bar,” Elkington said. “It’s about the players.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org