The crowd at Yale Billiards is larger and more diverse than one might expect for a pool hall in Wallingford on a Monday night. The hall is bustling with friendly conversation among the mix of men, women and children of all ages. Under the warm glow of the overhead lamps, the place feels more like a community center rather than a pool hall.
But don't let the friendly atmosphere fool you, Yale Billiards is serious about pool. This small pool hall is home to the 2014 USAPL National Pool Champions, including 12-year-old Lukas Fracasso-Verner.
The Yale Billiards pool team dominated the USA Pool League's (USAPL) National Championship earlier this summer in Las Vegas. The team won first place in the team tournament and brought home honors for the top three places in the singles tournament.
Lukas, who placed third in the singles tournament, started playing pool four years ago. As a 12-year-old, he is the youngest player to place nationally in the USAPL pool championship, according to Mark Estes, a manager at USAPL. There are no age groups in the USAPL so Lukas placed third despite playing opponents more than twice his age.
"My dad got me into it," said Lukas. "He loves it and I really wanted to try it out."
David Verner, Lukas' father, also plays on the Yale Billiards team.
Lukas is from Wallingford and will enter seventh grade this fall. Besides pool, Lukas said he also plays football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
"My friends don't really care about pool," said Lukas. "I just love it. I love to win tournaments and I love the way the stick feels in my hand.''
Lukas even got the chance to play 12 games with his idol, the number one ranked American pool player in the country, Shane "The South Dakota Kid" Van Boeing, who happened to be in Vegas at the time.
"I plan to keep playing when I'm older. I practice five days a week," said Lukas.
"If Lukas isn't in school he's in here," said Robert Hilton, owner of the Yale Billiards pool hall and member of the team.
Hilton and his father-in-law, Terry Taylor, opened Yale Billiards, located on 950 Yale Ave. in Wallingford in 1994. Taylor retired in 1998 and Hilton has been the owner since.
The Yale Billiards team had to beat 12 Connecticut teams in order to make it to the championship in Las Vegas, held July 16 to 20. Forty state champion teams from all over the nation also made it to Vegas. The Yale Billiards team is made up of 10 players with ages varying from 12 to 62. Current members include Robert Hilton, Lukas Fracasso-Verner, David Verner, John Papallo, David Gavrish, Gregory Hanks, Thomas Boynton, Michael Hoyle, Philip Davis and Robert Piersa.
"We beat the best of the best in the state," said Hilton. "Then we beat the state champions and proved we're the best of the best in one big tournament."
According to Hilton, the team took home $6,200 for winning the championship. USAPL also payed for the team's flight to Las Vegas as well as a week-long stay at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.
"It was the best," said Hilton. "Everyone we were playing was so nice, telling us how well we were playing."
Some members of the Yale Billiards USAPL team will return to Las Vegas from Aug. 14 to Aug. 23 to compete in the American Poolplayers Association (APA) National Team Championship.
According Estes, this is the first time in the history of the USAPL that one team has won both the team championship and the top three places in the singles tournament.
The USAPL's website describes their organization as ". . . a social amateur handicapped 8-Ball league designed to accommodate all players from beginner through top amateur level."
Estes said the USAPL, who's parent company is the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), is only five years old but has been growing substantially in membership each year.