Until very recently, billiards was a sport completely dominated by men. In bygone days the poolroom was a very forbidding place, and women had trouble being accepted there. Nonetheless - behind closed doors - women have been enthusiastic players since the game began in the 15th century. And San Clementean and competitive pool player, Kathy Clark, is a classic example.
“I have been playing pool for as long as I can remember,” Kathy shared. “There has always been a pool table in our homes, and I have always loved the challenge, strategy and sociability of the game.”
Hers was a passion that has carried over to her children, Ryan Hoffman and Angela Jones. Both also have pool tables in their homes and continue playing the game regularly today.
Kathy’s son Ryan says of the game, “We moved to San Clemente when I was about 12-years-old. Pool playing was a nightly occurrence in our home. For me it was always about the competition, I wanted to beat everyone in our neighborhood.”
That competitiveness was evident in Ryan’s desire to defeat a father in the neighborhood who would not let any of the children play on his table. Ryan was determined to beat him on that forbidden table, and he practiced diligently to accomplish that end.
Through the years the family continued enjoying the game together, and as Ryan grew it wasn’t long before he was cueing up in the local venues available all around town.
“I played at Ole’s Tavern, Mulligan’s, Buckingham Palace, the Outrigger, and at China Beach - now the O.C. Tavern - where I am currently a manager,” Ryan explained. “They were all great places to enjoy the game and maybe pick up a little pocket money in the process.”
Eventually joining the American Pool Players Association (APA), Ryan saw a sign in Mulligan’s advertising the association’s team play. He applied and was placed on a team in the South Orange County League, and after playing one season decided to form a team of his own.
“I definitely wanted my mom on my team, so I asked her, a few of my friends, and eventually my girlfriend Amy Miner, to be on the team,” he revealed. “It took us about four to five years to get good enough to qualify for the Nationals in Las Vegas where we would be competing against teams from the U.S., Japan and Canada.”
Since first qualifying for that prestigious competition, Ryan’s team, Hoffa’s Hustlers, has been back four times, while Ryan himself, who ranks number five in the top ten of the South Orange County League, has returned once more qualifying for doubles play.
When Kathy was asked to join Ryan’s team, she began playing outside the home more regularly, eventually becoming a member of the South Orange County Women’s League as well. And as the pool-playing matriarch of the family, she has not only been to Nationals with the Hustlers but has been to that same competition with the South Orange County Women’s League three times.
“For me the game has always been more about sociability and fun, but Ryan has always taken it more seriously,” Kathy said. “When he was young he practiced and practiced to get better. While I taught him everything I knew it was his passion for the game and desire to win that drove him. He was so fiercely competitive that I needed to help him realize it was okay to lose as well as win.”
The Saga of the Table
Like most families, Ryan and Kathy have a funny story to tell. They call it the “saga of the family pool table.”
It seems that when Kathy experienced a divorce she wanted to keep the family’s pool table. A family heirloom by that time, there was no way she was going anywhere without it. Remembering what a chore it was trying to fit the table into her one bedroom condo when she moved, Kathy laughed saying, “That place was so small it took up the whole living area, but I didn’t care I wasn’t about to give up that table or the game.”
From that small condo on Ave. Del Mar the table found its next home in a condo in Talega, finally coming to rest in a house in the Rancho San Clemente development … but that wasn’t the end of the story.
In a new relationship, in a new home, Kathy finally decided it was time to purchase a new table. Not wanting to lose the family treasure, Ryan took it to his place. Then when a move forced him to find another space for the table, he lent it to a buddy with the stipulation that if he ever wanted to get rid of it he had to return it to Ryan. Two years later that day came, and the family table has finally come to rest at Ryan’s place.
For mother/son pool players Kathy Clark and Ryan Hoffman, the future holds more of the same. But while planning to continue playing and competing at billiards, they also plan to continue enjoying some of the many other sporting amenities living in San Clemente offers.
A former employee and tennis player at Rancho San Clemente Tennis Club, Kathy is now a member of the Women’s Golf Group at the San Clemente Municipal Golf Course, and Ryan spends time surfing and enjoying SUP (Stand Up Paddling) with his father Greg Hoffman.
Mother/son, billiards and more … it’s easy to see that for this San Clemente family enjoying a sport together is a win-win situation. And the next time you find yourself enjoying an evening at Mulligan’s or Molly Blooms in town, you might want to visit the poolroom to cheer for Hoffa’s Hustlers; they’ll be the ones smokin’ all comers on the regulation tables you’ll find them playing on there.