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Corey Martin, 39, lines up a rack in a race to 15 games against his friend and opponent Jayson Grace, 38. Martin and Grace practice at Side Pockets Billiards almost daily, hoping to form a dominant league team.

An Unlikely Family

story by Joseph Xu

The door opens, letting nicotine fumes escape. Under fluorescent lights, a visitor sees resin-filled balls bounce off green velvet-lined walls.

This is Side Pockets Billiards, an off-the-road billiards room on Paducah’s south side. On its walls, framed pictures detail the rise of billiards from the 1961 film, "The Hustler," to its peak in the 1980s when national champions and soon-to-be-legends of the game frequented the room. On the tables, a solitary game with a rich base of characters gives birth to an unlikely family that extends beyond the room.

Dickie Todd, 62, has owned and operated Side Pockets for 22 years.  A former U.S. Amateur Champion, Dickie is Side Pockets’ fourth owner in its 48-year history.  His son, Dusty, 39, helps him.

“We’ve been family-oriented since day one,” Dickie says. “I plan to pass it on to my son eventually.”

One member of the Side Pockets family is Stacee Young, 35.  She started playing at Side Pockets at age 10, following in her father’s footsteps.  “My dad would eventually just drop me off and leave me here to practice,” she says.

In an era when billiards rooms in Paducah didn’t encourage women, Stacee was accepted by players at Side Pockets.

“They wouldn’t let anything happen to me because they knew I was his daughter,” she says. “My mom would always say that I was safer here than anywhere else.”

Corey Martin, 39, another regular, also found a family at Side Pockets.  Corey began playing pool when he was 15. Though his father was a known pool shark in the area, his physical and emotional distance prevented Corey from immediately inheriting the game.

He picked up the game on his own and began making a name for himself in his early 20s. Winning a local tournament brought him to his father’s attention.

“My dad was always rough on me, yelling at me for missing shots,” Corey says. “Dickie Todd would always take his time with me and show me how to fix my mistakes.”

Corey still finds that sense of family at Side Pockets after his short reunion with his father. “Sometimes you look around this room and see a bunch of lonely old men,” says Corey. “I don’t want to be that lonely. We look out for each other here.”

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Dusty (left), 39, Dyson (center), 12, and Dickie Todd (right), 62, stand in front of Side Pockets Billards. Dickie has owned the billiards room since 1994 and is the fourth owner in its 48-year history. He plans to retire at the beginning of next year and hand the family business to his son Dusty. Though Dusty began playing at Side Pockets when he was just five, his son Dyson has yet to take up the sport.

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"I got a bully dog tattoo because my wife calls me her bulldog," says Brent Wilson, 41. Brent has been playing at Side Pockets for over 20 years and recently started working there during the day, managing the room and serving its members.

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"It's amazing being able to walk in here and see legends like Buddy Hall playing on the same tables you are," says Herschel Luther, 55. Herschel came to Paducah in July for a construction contracting job at the Berkley Regional Airport. He visits Side Pockets whenever he has a rare day off.

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Curtis Newborn, 66, plays tournaments throughout the area but uses Side Pockets to prepare throughout the week. Curtis says he felt uncomfortable at other rooms because of his race and ethnicity. "The people here always make me feel welcome," he says.

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Brett Richardson, 41, proudly holds a trophy and plaque for Most Valuable Player of the Side Pockets Fall 2016 8 Ball League. He has played at Side Pockets for 20 years. This season, Brett has only been able to cheer his team due to a recent neck injury. "I don't like watching," Brett says. "I want to play."

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Corey Martin, 39, has been a regular in the room since age 15. Recently he started streaming matches on Facebook through his iPhone in hopes of bringing new players in while giving those who are recorded material to help them refine their skills.

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"My grandpa was good at banks, so it runs in the blood," says Aaron Keeling, 17, after banking a shot off a wall with his grandfather's pool cue. In June, after his grandfather passed away, Aaron began playing at Side Pockets where his grandfather played. "He would have been 60 this August," Aaron says. "I'm sure he would be proud of me playing for him."

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Buddy Hall, 71, was born and raised in Metropolis, IL, a city just across the Ohio River from Paducah. He has called Side Pockets Billiards his home since its opening in 1968. Known as a living legend with the nickname of "The Rifleman," Hall practices and refines his stroke in the room today just as he did when he first began playing here.

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Mariah Day, 19, and Tyler Lynn, 21, kiss outside of Side Pockets Billiards in Paducah. The two met at Side Pockets two years ago, but it wasn't until Mariah asked Tyler out to a Halloween concert last year that they started dating. They now come play pool here five to six nights out of the week together and will be celebrating their one-year anniversary soon.