I first met Derrick Burnham at a New England 9-Ball Series Tour stop event as he was running racks. Many players can run a rack, but Derrick looked like he knew how to do it the right way. He chose good position routes, had a great stroke, and knew when to play a safety.
When I heard people say he was only 16 years old I thought they were joking.
I talked to him for a bit and again I was surprised at his age; he was polite and well-mannered and just seemed to be a really nice person. He lost the hot seat match but then made his way through the one loss side and double dipped in the finals to become the youngest person since Mike Dechaine to win a New England 9-Ball Series event.
Derrick lives in Gorham, ME, where he is a Sophomore at Gorham High School. He first picked up a pool cue when he was 10 or 11 years old when his grandfather took him to a pool hall. He was immediately hooked; fortunately he was tall for his age and could reach over the rail and thus never needed to use the side arm stroke that other players who started young like Keith McCready still use.
By the time he was 12 he won his first tournament — an unhandicapped race to four 8-Ball event with adults.
His goal is to become a professional pool player; and he is willing to work hard at it. On average he spends four hours each day playing pool; an hour doing drills and the rest of the time practicing different games like one pocket.
His parents are extremely supportive of him and his goal. His father bought a pool table for the house so he could practice more. They also usually attend his tournaments and have traveled with him to Pennsylvania and Las Vegas for events.
In 2015 Derrick placed fifth in the 15-18 year old junior division at the Super Billiards Expo in Oaks, PA. This qualified him along with the other top 16 finishers to attend the Junior Nationals in Las Vegas.
Derrick described the 2015 Junior Nationals as being his favorite event so far. This was where he realized how serious the other players were and how badly they also wanted to win. At the same time, though, he found it to be a really fun environment and met some new people.
Derrick lost his final match hill-hill to take seventh place out of 57 players. He is looking to qualify for the Nationals again at this year’s Super Billiards Expo.
When watching a teenager from Maine play pool at the level Derrick does it is hard not to compare him to another former Maine teenage pool prodigy, Mike Dechaine. Both players practiced for hours every day to improve their games. Both began winning tournaments at a young age. They even use the same cue: an OB-121 with an OB-1+ shaft.
The fact that people think he plays similarly to how Mike Dechaine played at 16 years old gives Derrick confidence and inspires him to believe that if he keeps working hard he can play as well or better than Mike someday.
I asked Derrick if he ever feels nervous at tournaments, particularly because he mostly plays with adults, and he said he really doesn’t. He plays loose and calm because he is knows his abilities and has confidence in his game.
This is a quality I’m sure a lot of other pool players wish they had.
What he likes most about the game of pool in general is that it can lend itself to a lot of people. It invites everyone and discriminates against no one. You can have a fun time with friends. You can take it seriously or not. If you take it seriously you can play with the pros. This is something that can’t be said of most other sports that have specific physical requirements.
Derrick is sponsored by Union Station Billiards in Portland, ME, which he describes as having 18 Gold Crown nine foot tables and a really nice seating area for spectators.
When not playing pool Derrick can be found playing basketball or at his weekend and summer job with a landscaping company.
We will be watching Derrick this April at the Super Billiards Expo and predict that this will not be the last article someone writes about his pool career.
Katie started playing pool in September 2000 when her sister begged her to take her spot on her APA 8-Ball team while on maternity leave. Never having played pool before, Katie was arguably the worst skill level 2 player in the history of the league and primarily functioned as a body on the team to keep them from disbanding. Being forced to compete every week when just hitting the cue ball into the object ball was challenging was enormous motivation to learn, practice, and get better. Katie was extremely shy and never went out much and pool became her primary social activity and helped build her confidence when interacting with other people. When she first started practicing people would stop by to offer advice and lessons, but eventually people were stopping by to ask her for advice and lessons. After thousands of hours of practice Katie eventually became a skill level 7 in APA and was given the nickname ‘The Tiny Titan’. Katie also plays in the VNEA pool league, competes as a B- on the New England 9 Ball Series tour, placed 5th in the 2014 APA Jack and Jill tournament in Las Vegas, was a member of the NH Masters team at the 2015 APA National Championships in Las Vegas, and was runner-up at the 2015 Super Billiards Expo Women’s Amateur Open. Katie is sponsored by Grand China Billiards in Salem, NH and theNH VNEA pool league. Katie has an M.S. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from UMass Amherst and currently works in the Oncology Department at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research where she plays with robots and does research on cancer cells. Photo: provided by Derrick Burnham Editor: Shaylyn Ruth