View Full Version : Taking his cue (article)

05-13-2005, 05:57 AM
Mike Shepherd/The Capital-Journal
Local pool hall hero Calvin Lawton, 73, has spent many nights at Terry's Billiard Club, 3919 S.W. 21st, where he is the reigning champion of Terry's Tournament of Champions. Lawton, who began playing in Topeka's segregated pool halls more than 50 years ago, says pool is mostly a game of mental strategy.
Though he is at an age when physical skills such as eyesight and stamina have diminished, Lawton's mental agility continues to set him apart from other players.

Published Friday, May 13, 2005

Taking his cue

Longtime pool player going strong

By Lorraine Jessepe
Special to The Capital-Journal

Legendary pool champion Minnesota Fats once said that the best pool players in the world make it look easy. At age 73, Calvin Lawton not only makes it look easy, his longevity and consistency also have made him a legend among Topeka pool players.

"As long as he's got the desire, he's going to be competitive," said Terry Monson, owner of Terry's Billiard Club, 3919 S.W. 21st, and Lawton's friend for 30 years.

Lawton is the titleholder of Terry's Tournament of Champions, an annual event that draws many of the top pool players from the Midwest. In December, Lawton won first place for the fourth straight year. Lawton's pool team, Terry's All Stars, are also the reigning national champions of the American Pool Player's Association.

But if you watch Lawton shooting in a match, you would think that he hadn't a care in the world. Slender and standing about 5 feet 8 inches, he strolls around the table without emotion. He has the same calm, easy-going demeanor whether he is practicing or playing under pressure in a tournament or a big-money match.

"Pool is 75 percent mental," he said. "You have to have a good mind to play. It's a beautiful game if you play it right."

"His thought process is still immaculate," Monson said. "You can't outfox him."

Lawton's ability to maintain a positive attitude throughout competition is a quality that Monson says is crucial to a pool player's success.

"You can't dwell on your mistakes," Monson said. "You have to put your mistakes behind you and move on."

Lawton was born and raised in a family of nine in Topeka. His playing career began in the segregated pool rooms of Topeka in the 1940s and '50s.

"I used to go to the Carver Y at 1st and Kansas," he said. "It was just for blacks. I ended up being the Carver Y champion."


According to legendary Topeka pool player Calvin Lawton:

"Stroke the ball. Don't putt it."

"Never bank when you can cut."

"You always play the game, not your opponent."

"You have to have imagination. You have to envision it."

As a young man, Lawton saved his school lunch money and learned the game by shooting against the best players at Stump's Pool Hall, The Dunbar Hotel at S.W. 4th and Quincy, and Bart's at 213 S. Kansas Ave. By age 16, he began playing for small amounts of money to sharpen his game.

"I never played unless I gambled," he said. "I didn't want the other guy to take my money."

During his prime, Lawton once spent a year traveling the country, from the West Coast to the East Coast, playing pool for money. He is one of the few pool players who has earned a living playing pool, but he seems amused by and dismissive of talk that he is a pool hustler.

"They always put that on me," he said, chuckling. "I put a lot of bread on the table with that pool stick. The main thing is, I'm an artist."

Lawton loved to draw and paint when he was a student at Topeka High School in the late 1940s. Today, his pencil portraits of local players line the walls at Terry's Billiard Club. But the pool table remains his true medium.

Lawton's artistry on the pool table goes beyond the physiological skills required to pocket shots or maneuver the cue ball. Pool is a game of performance, precision and problem solving. But the solutions are seldom black and white -- they come in shades and subtleties.

When Lawton is at the table, he knows how to come up with just the right nuances to win. His game is not only a performance of skill, but also a performance of poise, heart, creativity, intelligence and character.

"He respects the game," Monson said. "He respects his opponents. He's always very courteous."

One way Lawton shows his respect is by giving back to the game. He has taught countless other pool players in Topeka -- either through private lessons or by example -- how to play a better game of pool.

One of those players, Ford Arbogast, once said of Lawton, "Everything he says about pool is Bible."

After more than five decades of playing, Lawton has quietly set a standard of excellence among young, up-and-coming players and seasoned veterans that will long be remembered. He said he will keep shooting pool as long as he can stand.

"I still enjoy the game," Lawton said. "It's a beautiful work of art once you learn how to play."

web page (http://cjonline.com/stories/051305/loc_lawton.shtml)

Lorraine Jessepe is a Topeka freelance writer and a member of the Native American Journalist Association.

Scott Lee
05-13-2005, 11:08 AM
Nick...How refreshing to read about a CHAMPION who talks the talk, AND walks the walk! Nice to see articles about great players that remember this game can be played well, without all the ridiculous diatribe that you hear so many good players woofing about!

I wish I had known about this man 3 months ago, when I did a show at K-State! I would have stopped into Topeka just to meet this man!


05-13-2005, 10:46 PM
I think Calvin and I played some at least twice. The last time I saw him was at the Little 500 club in Topeka. He well could have been on the road in Calif and returned to Topeka. I was on the road during that time and he looked about 20 years older than me.


Gayle in MD
05-14-2005, 07:05 AM
Thank you for posting this. Nice article...
Gayle in md.