11-year-old Lake Villa pool player to play for world title in China
For 11-year-old competitive billiards player Joey Tate, the game at times feels, well, almost like life and death.
"I'm like, 'I gotta beat this guy. I know I can beat him, and I just gotta play well,'" said Joey, who comes from a Lake Villa family for whom the game is both a hobby and a business. "When I lose it's hard not to cry. You just want to die."
That kind of competitiveness earned Joey a spot on Team USA for the 2016 World Pool-Billiard Association World Junior Nine Ball Championships, which begins today in Shanghai, China.
He made the team after winning a bronze medal at the Billiard Education Foundation Annual Junior National Nine Ball Championships in July. Three of his siblings also competed at junior nationals: Bethany, 9; Sarah, 14; and Mary, 16. The family altogether has 12 children, the youngest a baby born in August.
Joey has tons of drive and talent, said his father, Randy Tate, who owns a resale coin-operated pool table business and runs a "pool after school" program for youths. His wife, Shellie, is a stay-at-home mom.
"Some people have talent but don't have drive, and some people have drive but don't have talent," Tate said. "It's rare to have drive and talent. He can practice on his own, and he keeps working on drills and practicing. He has such as love for the game."
Joey squared off against stiff competition to make the U.S. team, said Samm Diep-Vidal, executive director of the Billiard Education Foundation. The nonprofit is the governing body for youth billiards and oversees its state and national championships.
Medaling at junior nationals also gave Joey a chance to earn a spot on the Atlantic Challenge Cup team, which will square off against a European team next year. The selection process hasn't started yet.
Remaining consistently good at pool can be a challenge for kids who are constantly growing, Diep-Vidal said. "Every time they grow, it changes their mechanics," she said. "The advantage of being shorter is that you don't have to bend over the table quite as much to reach over."
Joey's family has two pool tables: a 9-foot table and a smaller, 6½-foot table. Like his siblings, Joey started playing at about age 5.
He quickly mastered his first trick shot, the massé, which consists of making the cue ball spin around one ball in order to hit the target ball. "I felt really good. I was yelling, 'Hey guys, come here and watch!'" he said of the moment he nailed the trick shot.
At first he was so little he couldn't keep both feet on the ground while playing. Now, he's able to keep at least one foot down, which is mandatory in competition, but still has to hike up a leg on the side of the table to compensate.
The junior national and world competitions involve playing nine ball, a game in which balls are run in numerical sequence.
"I prefer nine ball because I feel like I can just think better when there is not as much on the table. I can think of the run better," Joey said. "Nine ball is the crown jewel. Everyone wants to win a nine ball game."
Joey is sponsored by J. Pechauer Custom Cues of Green Bay, Wisconsin, which gave him more than $2,000 of playing equipment, including a playing cue, break cue, jump cue and a case.
The company regularly sponsors young players, and Joey was recommended by the Billiard Education Foundation, said its operations manager, Steve Douglas.
"They mentioned Joey was a nice kid and came from a large family," he said. "Part of our decision with him was that he was coming from such a large family, so from a financial standpoint, he would be a good one to help out."
Joey is being accompanied to China by his father, who is hoping to offset the cost of travel expenses by asking for donations via GoFundMe.
Joey said the best moment of his pool career was beating a previously undefeated fellow junior player at nationals. The worst moments were when he couldn't control his anger after losing, something he since has learned to reel in.
"I'd do all sorts of things, like kick a wall," he said. "I learned to control it thanks to my dad. My dad would always tell me, 'Don't get down. Instead, bring yourself up. Humble yourself.' I learned that about a year ago."
It's too early to tell what he wants to do when he grows up, he said. Being a professional pool player isn't the ideal career to raise a family, and he wants to have up to seven kids, he said.
So what does it take to be this good? "It takes a lot, a lot, a lot of practice," Joey said. "To become a pro, you usually have to play 10,000 hours. A lot, a lot of hours. And you have to have experience playing the game and playing in the big tournament. Not just to win it, but to have experience."
• If you know of a young person whose story wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joey TateLake Villa, 11
Who inspires you? My dad and a lot of the pool pros like Shane Van Boening.
What book are you reading? Nothing for pleasure, but I read the Bible often.
What music are you listening to? Vertical Church Band and Hillsong United.
The three words that best describe you? Humble. Kind. A good shot.