Daanish Iqbal and Anibal Campos stand in a dimly lit lounge room at Ohio University’s Baker University Center, the student center on campus. They’re beside one of the three pool tables in the first-floor lounge, which also houses casual-dining restaurant Latitude 39.
Five TVs are spread out, mounted on the green walls. It’s the Thursday evening before Athens’ annual Halloween block party, so students’ excitement for the extravaganza is growing.
But right now, Iqbal and Campos are focused on their game of pool. Throughout the games, Iqbal tried to keep pace with Campos. In watching the two, Campos appeared to be the better player. He does have a pool table back home in Bolivia. In this one game, though, Iqbal had a chance.
He only had the black, No. 8 ball left. If he sunk it, then he’d win.
He missed. “Dude, it came outside the pocket,” Iqbal says in frustration. Campos won the game, but it was getting late. He and Iqbal had to eat dinner. The next game would be their last for the evening. Campos racked up the balls, and a new game began.
Iqbal and Campos are both sophomores at Ohio, and they are engineering majors. Iqbal, who is from Pakistan, studies mechanical engineering; Campos studies industrial engineering. They met each other while playing pool last September, and they usually play five games at a time. “Out of five, I get like two (wins),” Campos says.
While eight-ball pool is an older game, its origins dating back to the early 20th century, its inherently calm nature intrigues OU students like Iqbal and Campos. Playing pool isn’t physically taxing compared to football, basketball or soccer. It’s a mental game. And even so, the level of mental warfare that occurs during a game depends on the competitiveness of the players.
With the stresses of college sometimes too much to bear, playing pool offers students a way to get away from studying and hang out with their friends. “It’s fucking college, you know, we don’t want to study all the time,” Iqbal says.
According to the 2013 National College Health Assessment, approximately one-third of college students said they struggled to function in the past 12 months because of depression. Also, nearly half of them said that they felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. The study looked at data from 125,000 students who were from more than 150 colleges and universities.
Pool isn’t the only way to relieve stress at OU, though. Ping Recreation Center has fitness classes, five basketball courts, a weight room and a track. Students can work out and release endorphins, chemicals that can make a person feel good and relieve stress. But when students are in between classes, or even perhaps when they’re finished for the day, they can go to the pool tables in Baker to play a few rounds.
Though playing pool is a way to chill with friends, the game still requires mental fortitude. “The way I see it, pool is for smart people,” Campos says. As Campos and Iqbal play, they don’t talk much – words are spoken only really between shots.
The end of Iqbal’s and Campos’ pool session is near, but another one is about to begin. A group of four students, two men and two women, saunter into the lounge and start to play at one of the two other tables. And shortly after, four men who are members of the OU Billiards Club walk in to start playing.
On this Friday eve, perhaps these students want to have some fun before the weekend starts, too. The second table with the group of four is composed of freshmen. Sean Bailey, Amber Riley, Dylan Stewart and Brianna Barton like to play pool because it’s a way to hang out with one another.
The number of students who come to play pool at Baker is consistent. Students can regularly be seen carrying pool cues along with a box of pool balls up and down the escalators. Stewart, who studies psychology, says that he and his friends play pool about twice a week.
For Riley, it was only her second time ever playing pool. But as the friends played, friendly banter ensued. The four played in teams, with Riley and Stewart on one, and Bailey and Barton on the other.
After Stewart tried a shot and missed, Bailey had some trash talk for his friend. “Oh shit, shit, oh that was cool,” Bailey says as Stewart misses. “Would’ve been cooler if it went in, but you can’t always get what you want.”
The sarcastic remarks aside, the friends root each other on. That is, the friends who are on each other’s team.
As Stewart prepared for another shot, Riley gave him a pep talk as she handed him the cue stick. “Dyl, you got this,” Riley says. He sunk the shot.
Though playing pool can be a stress reliever, Bailey had an interesting take on the sport. “It’s kind of a stress reliever or a stress causer,” Bailey says. That goes back to how the intensity of a pool game can vary depending on who’s playing. The sport is relaxing, but the level of concentration necessary to strategize and subsequently pocket balls is high.
Playing pool has its moments in which players toil, wanting to hit the white cue ball in a way so it’ll hit the balls cleanly into pockets.
“It’s a little bit more thinky than basketball, but not as much as chess,” says Michael Brookhart, the vice president of the OU Billiards Club.
As the four students left – Stewart and Riley won the group’s series 2-1 – some of the OU Billiards Club members played on another table. The club comes to the lounge to play on Thursdays from 7-9 p.m.
Brookhart is wearing a black “Haunt Miami” T-Shirt – Ohio’s football game on Halloween against Miami came the following week. Along with him is junior Connor Coyne, the president of the club, and Jonathan Sisler, a sophomore who studies mathematics. In addition to Brookhart, Coyne and Sisler is Connor Berelsman, a freshman who is in the club.
The four are playing in teams, with Sisler and Brookhart on one, and Coyne and Berelsman on the other. The TVs are still on: CNN plays on one, “Jeopardy!” on another as well as the NFL Network on one.
As Sisler and the group play, he doesn’t hesitate to name the best player among the group.
“Connor,” Sisler says, pointing at Coyne, who is wearing a green and white OU hoodie with the Bobcat logo on the front.
Coyne, who studies athletic training, joined the club when he was a freshman, and he has a pool table back home in Cincinnati. Brookhart began playing a year before he came to school. All play as a hobby, but the group’s skill level and competition level appear to be higher compared to the students playing earlier.
As Sisler talks about how professionals play, how they plan their entire path of where they’ll hit the balls, he talks with relative ease. He talks about how pros sit down as they watch other players sink multiple shots in a row. Sisler said the pros know that their turn won’t be for a while because opposing players know what shots they want.
Sisler and Brookhart are on a team, and they’re losing to Coyne and Berelsman. Coyne and Berelsman have the solids, and they have the red No. 3 ball left. After that, they’ll only have the black No. 8 ball to pocket.
Sisler and Brookhart won the previous game, and in this game, they have the striped balls. The orange No. 15 ball, the purple No. 12 ball and the green No. 14 ball still needed to be pocketed.
Sisler was going to take the shot, and he had a chance to pocket the No. 15 and No. 12 balls – that’s if he lined them up correctly. As he took the shot, Sisler talked about the importance of not accidentally pocketing the white cue ball, particularly when trying to pocket two balls at once. When a player pockets the cue ball, it’s a scratch, and the other player or team receives possession.
Sisler pocketed the No. 15 and No. 12 striped balls, so Coyne had to be clutch. The red No. 3 ball still needed to be taken care of, and the No. 8 ball was left, too. No relaxation here.
“There,” Coyne says as he pocketed the red ball.
Then, after Sisler eventually dispatched the last striped ball, only the coveted black No. 8 ball was left for both teams. Berelsman had the opportunity to win the game for him and Coyne. He called his shot to the right corner pocket opposite him.
The white cue ball rolled into the pocket, and by default, Sisler and Brookhart won.
As Iqbal and Campos finished their last game, Campos was in position to win. “It’s a straight shot,” Iqbal says as Campos prepared for the shot. Campos cleanly pocketed the No. 8 ball, and he won. “Let’s go boy,” Campos says to Iqbal as they prepare to leave. It was time for them to eat dinner, the relaxing pool session over.