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The Quiet Man

SHANE ALREADY had a firm handle on pool. By the age of 6, he was traveling with his grandfather and performing trick-shot exhibitions. Decked out in a spiffy miniature suit and sporting slicked-back hair, he would fire in rail shots and wend his way through the Steve Mizerak "Just Showing Off" sequence from the famous Lite Beer ad.

"He just loved to play in front of people," Gary Bloomberg said. "We did the usual setups. And he would try to invent his own shots. He was very creative."

Shane's clearest early memory of pool is an action match. At 7 or 8 years old, he played a $20 set with an adult. He lost, but "I was playing with my own money," he now says with pride.

It might be difficult for parents outside of pool to swallow the concept of kids gambling for fun - with Mom's full endorsement - but that's the way it was with the Bloomberg family.

"Shane was always around that stuff," Timi said. "That is part of the poolhall. And that is part of competing. You have to learn how to win and lose. That is how you learn to deal with pressure."

At 8 or 9, Shane began playing in state tournaments in straight-up competition with adults. Although the family's collective memory is now fuzzy on the details, he finished runner-up in either the B or C class at the age of 9.

At school, Shane was the shy, scrawny kid with the flat, nasally voice who spoke in clipped sentences, if at all. In the refuge of the poolroom, he was a star who could nail reverse cuts and draw the cue ball three rails.

In a sense, the poolroom became his school.

"If it wasn't for the poolhall, I wouldn't know how to talk," Van Boening said. "The people in the poolhall helped me communicate. Otherwise I would have had to go to school and learn how to do sign language and not learn how to talk. Most people with hearing-impairments don't talk at all. They don't know how."

His mother applied some lessons as well. Although she never took much of an active role in his training - "I wanted him to play for himself, and not just do what I say to do" - she stepped in when corrections were required.

One day, she noticed him sharking an opponent by standing next to the pocket. When he ignored her warnings, she took matters into her own hands.

"I went over and said, 'OK, you are in trouble.' His eyes got really big, and I said, 'Rack 'em.' I broke and I ran out, and every shot I looked at him. And he ran to the bathroom crying. He said, 'I'm not supposed to lose.' And I said, 'If you can't learn how to lose, you can't win. So you have to stop cheating to win.'"

The role of father figure was filled in great part by his grandfather. One of his best memories from childhood is attending the 1992 BCA Expo in Kansas City, Mo., with his grandpa. There, they ran into Hall-of-Famer Mike Sigel, who was performing an exhibition. An on-the-spot, friendly challenge was arranged between Shane and Sigel. Shane ran the table.

In a nearby booth, cuemaker Dan Janes of Joss Cues called Shane over. "Shane was a nice young man," Janes said. "I don't mean a sweet little kid. I mean a nice young man. And I offered to make him a cue."

A few months later, the cue arrived in Rapid City from Janes' workshop. Shane's name was inlaid on the butt.

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