Taking A Cue From The Best

January 17, 1995|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer

At 4 o'clock each morning, Katie Julian arises in her Harford County home to prepare bakery and delicatessen products for soldiers and their families at the Aberdeen Proving Ground commissary.

But at night, in a smoky billiards parlor or at taverns around Baltimore County, Ms. Julian builds on her reputation among the state's competitive pool shooters. She has become known for her dedication and driving ambition to be one of America's top contenders in billiards.

To that end, she will be competing against the best women in the world this week.

"I practice four hours a day," said Ms. Julian, 23, of Edgewood, the daughter of a retired Army master sergeant and his wife. "Sometimes I shoot so long my eyes are burning and my arm aches. But I keep racking them because you must practice perfectly to excel."

"All Katie needs to learn is the composure from those women on the national tour who are tough and don't miss the basic shots," said Thomas "Cigar Tom" Hanover, night manager at Running Out Billiards in Dundalk and a national billiards competitor. "She has great skills already. And if she can learn to deal with that intense pressure she absolutely can be one of the best in the nation."

Tomorrow, Ms. Julian will join 40 of the nation's most successful players when the 1995 Women's Professional Billiards Association (WPBA) Classic Tour begins at Baltimore Billiards opposite Eastpoint Mall. The tournament will run through Sunday evening.

She will compete for $50,000 in prize money, chalking her $400 custom-made cue to shoot nine-ball against the best.

Included in this year's field are Jeanette Lee, last year's national champion; and Ewa Mataya-Laurance, the professional billiards cover girl who receives a six-figure endorsement fee and appears in a commercially produced video demonstrating trick shots and strategy. An opening night match between the players and members of the media will benefit the House of Ruth in Baltimore, a shelter for battered women and their children.

Decades ago, assorted characters of questionable repute brought a seedy reputation to pool. Today the game sports a new image.

Some of the upscale billiards rooms around Baltimore feature mahogany and brass trimmings and food is served. ESPN, the all-sports cable network, regularly airs matches featuring the top-ranked men and women players.

"The game has really changed in our culture," said Terry Justice, manager of the Bud Light Pool League in which 600 bar teams compete in Maryland. "Billiards will soon surpass bowling as America's top participant sport.

"The top women are superb pool shooters. Another advantage women have is they have little of the misspent youth like the guys. I have 30 years experience shooting pool and I can't touch the women in the WPBA," Mr. Justice said.

Vicki Paski of Wisconsin, national president of the professional women's tour, said "the women's game is growing in leaps and bounds. This year, the total prize money purse is $750,000," she said. "The success is good marketing and a stronger game being played by the participants."

Into this arena steps Ms. Julian, an amateur who could gain professional status with four victories on the tour. With a professional ranking, she could get a sponsor to pay travel and living expenses while competing. Most of the other players have such arrangements.

Her dream of the national tour started six years ago while living with her family in Aberdeen. She played a game of pool and quickly became fascinated by it.

"She comes from a large family so competition was no stranger to Katie," said her mother, Eileen Julian. "I was hit with this dread when she said she was playing pool. It was not some place I wanted my daughter.

"But she was always able to naturally be good at things," Mrs. Julian said. "She learned the piano by ear. She enjoyed mathematics because it came to her. In billiards, she is dedicated and is now extremely good and moving up. As her mother, I am pleased as punch."

Most nights, Ms. Julian practices at the Running Out pool parlor in Dundalk. On Wednesday nights, she shoots for a team from the Big Falls Inn, a tavern on Philadelphia Road in White Marsh.

"Besides her skill, the thing that impresses me most about Katie is her determination," said Jerry Shepard, co-owner of the tavern. "Lots of people talk a good game but she is always competing or practicing. She has a great attitude, a winner's attitude."

Ms. Julian enjoys the new-found attention her skill has brought her.

"I really don't go to bars much but I can go most anywhere and be recognized these days," she said. "I like to play well in front of people. I love the attention winning and excelling brings.

"When I go up against the professionals, I will try to be confident and do my best. I will bring my confidence and skill and try not to be intimidated. The way I look at it, whether I win or lose, I will be an improved player when it's over.

"And I'm not going to stop there."

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