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Mark Wilson: Man of Honor & Ambassador of Billiards. ~ Patrick Sampey

Wilson: Changing the Game

Mark Wilson—the current 2014 team USA Mosconi Cup captain—is a class act in the game of pocket billiards. He is an individual who believes in ending the seedy counterculture and stigma the game currently maintains. He lives by a code of discipline, honor, dignity and respect. Always respect.

“We have set out to change the direction of the sport and the fortunes of the U.S. in the Mosconi Cup by building a proper culture surrounding the game and its image. Honor, integrity, and respect are our core components and these values, along with discipline, work ethic, and unity will be the essence of change for our sport…I am not concerned with my perception and status but my message is crucial,” Wilson said in a recent interview with me.

When asked about team Europe he said, “I think we should recognize and praise the efforts of Europe. We used to be a decade in front of them and now they are five years ahead of us.”

Honor. Respect. Integrity. Wilson doesn’t clamor for fame, fortune, or accolades of any kind. He is a man who lives by the principles he espouses. If anyone can return the game of pool to the more respectable status that it held back in the days of legends like Ralf Greenleaf it is Mark.

He also supports our military here in the U.S. From his web page, he writes of his experience visiting the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEAL) training center:

“Coronado, California 04/07/09 Sunny 76 degrees…It is 5:30 a.m. and I am excited at the prospect of the day before me. Several weeks back I had contacted “Frogman 80,” whose real name is Amir Pishdad. Amir is a 53 year old retired Navy SEAL who is often called ”Pish” by his teammates. Through several communications, Pish agreed to get me an up close and personal BUD/S tour. Tours do exist for civilians, but they are usually reserved for special groups and are conducted by a public relations officer, not by your own personal real SEAL who grew up on this very base. His credentials are extensive and impressive; he is known throughout the SEAL community at least by his reputation. The Naval Special Warfare community is very small and an extremely tight family. Pish is friends with Marcus Luttrell, the “Lone Survivor” of Operation Redwing, and with Rudy Boesch (another famous SEAL who became popular with his appearance on the television reality show “Survivor”). World famous SEAL Dick Marcinko (also known as “Demo Dick” or “Rogue Warrior”) personally sought out Pish to serve in his unit.”

In a true-to-form fashion, Wilson gives an excellent description of exactly what Navy Seal training is like, and provides the reader with a well written account that at times has a sinewy poeticism that meanders along that river within my mind’s eye.

“I am so impressed and proud of what I was allowed to witness. Each one of these trainees represents the best of America, and I would be so proud to have each of them as my own son. Respectful, honorable, motivated, enthusiastic, athletic beyond all description, and an erect and  proud posture—I had forgotten that this is even possible when I usually see young people with their pants sagging, full of body piercings, slumping shoulders, head down, and sloppy. With all they have been given and taught here, these candidates are well on their way to fulfilling a successful life, no matter their field of endeavor. Thank you Amir, as I now walk taller everyday from being swept up in what your life has been about, and for taking me under your wing and showing me for that one day. You have made me a better person for life. Hooyah, Mark Wilson,” concludes Wilson.

Mark is also the author of, Play Great Pool, The Definitive Textbook for Teaching Yourself the Sport of Pocket Billiards.

Wilson grew up in Moline, Illinois, graduated high school in 1973, and became a professional pool player in 1975—going against his parents’ aspirations to become a lawyer.

Winning the Mosconi Cup

Alongside champions in the game like Lou Butera, Paul Gerni, Dallas West, and Jeanette Lee, Wilson and then team USA won the 1994 Mosconi Cup—the first time the event was played. And Wilson is steeped in Mosconi Cup folklore forever as a result.

“Winning the first Mosconi Cup was one of my all time career highlights, and particularly when you consider that Steve Davis and Jimmy White were opponents of ours. I could not hold higher regard for their cuemanship and degree of professionalism, and add to the volume of interest they created,” Wilson told me recently of the 1994 championship team USA.

“Prior to our playing the first Mosconi Cup, we had no idea how BIG this match was, and regarded it simply as another big match. We were shocked at the amount of media coverage, and live TV complete for the event. We never played anything remotely like it.”

For the 2014 Mosconi Cup team, he is currently working on making team member selections. Shane Van Boning, Corey Deuel, John Schmidt, Brandon Shuff, Oscar Dominquez, as well as other US pocket billiards champions have been named as candidates for the team, and the pool world is buzzing with speculation as to who will make the final cut.

But he won’t talk much about it at the present. He stays more to himself about it right now, which is understandable considering that pool is largely psychological warfare, and he wants to keep the European team guessing as to who will be facing off with them this time.

“I was drawn to the beauty and artistry of such a multifaceted and complex challenge. This has led my pursuit of excellence around the world and through all aspects of the sport, player, instructor, room owner, commentator, and author. Cue designer, Lindenwood University Billiards Team coach and now get to return to the Mosconi Cup as a coach after playing in the first two ever,” Wilson informed me of the Mosconi Cup.

Wilson also commentated on what is known in pool-hall circles as the most epic 9-ball pool match in history back in 1996, “The Color of Money”—where pool God’s Efren Reyes and Earl Strickland faced off for eternal bragging rights, and a winner-take-all paycheck of $100,000 that had been unheard of until that point. The event was held in Hong Kong, China.

After three days and nights of grueling play, Reyes came out on top 120-117—just barely winning the grind-it-out, nail-biting, pin-dropping spectacle of 9-ball-pool prowess. Never before had there been such a match of will, skill, determination and grit. And Reyes and Strickland were like fire and ice: where Reyes would be calm, collected, and showing very little emotion if any, Strickland would wear his emotions on his sleeve and let everyone know exactly how he felt.

Meanwhile, Mark was there once again to see history in the making:

“Earl is the greatest shot maker, and in his prime had the best break. Elevated cue shots, once again, you would have to give to Earl.” “Reyes is the greatest player of my time, and as best that I can figure, perhaps all time. When the match was played, these two players were the best.” “I went through the individual games, and of the times that both players came to the table. One time during the match, Reyes won at a rate of two to one through kicking skills and general tactical proficiency. He is able to control the balls, and regain control of the table, earning himself the first good opportunity.” “Strickland broke and ran so many racks that despite Reyes’s skills, Earl could largely neutralize that advantage.”

Wilson is a modest, accomplished champion in pool. His high run in straight pool (14.1 continuous) is 186. He has strung together seven racks in 9-ball twice. He also ran over 100 balls on a 10 foot table, which is a huge accomplishment in itself.

“While others frittered away their youth pursuing things like factory work, a college degree, a home, wife, and children, I applied myself to creating the happiest life anyone could imagine and am deeply satisfied that somehow I spent my best years of life doing what I wanted to do. This makes going to work to earn a living so much easier mentally, because you love what you do, rather than do unpleasant things until you can retire and then enjoy whatever life is left.” – Wilson on chasing his dreams in billiards.

Mark Wilson is man of true class and character.

Patrick Sampey aka Cellophane Man is a US Army veteran, billiards enthusiast, from Gainesville, Florida and is 42 years old. He is Air Assault qualified, COMPTIA A+ Certified Repair Technician and an Electronics Technician.

Photo: Mark Wilson’s website Editor: Edith Lazenby

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