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Preaching pool shark

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — What business does a nice young preacher have in a pool hall?
Eric Yow, 25, attorney, minister and pool champ, probably would answer that God has given him “a career, a calling, and a craft” – with “craft referring to his world-class accomplishments in “artistic pool,” known for its dazzling executions of mind-boggling trick shots.
Now a freshman attorney in Clarksville, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, Yow earned a Bible degree at Freed-Hardeman University before studying law at the University of Memphis. He served as full-time pulpit minister for the church in Brinkley, Ark., while in law school.
But Yow’s current claim to fame is his success in pool.
At the 2006 World Artistic Pool Championship in Frindley, Minn., Yow was recognized as No. 1 in the world in “Masse,” a kind of artistic pool in which players hold the cue at an angle nearly perpendicular to the table to hit the ball from above. Masse shots send the ball spinning, allowing it to travel forward in one direction, then angle off in another.
Yow also won the jump-shot championship in the 2007 Masters Artistic Pool Championship in Valley Forge, Pa. He stands 13th in the world among artistic pool champions in rankings by the Word Pool-Billiard Association. And Yow recently made his debut on ESPN, competing in an event played on a billiard table, different from pool.
Yow traces his interest in the sport to his first semester at Freed-Hardeman. He played in the university game room between classes, the first time in his life he had “ready access” to the table.
His interest in the game deepening, Yow focused hard on fundamentals, “what balls do when they hit each other and why they come off the rail at certain angles.”
Yow’s move into the rarefied world of artistic pool started after college when he accepted the preaching job in Arkansas.
The young preacher saw possibilities for more pool practice even while interviewing for the Brinkley pulpit. After his trial sermon Sunday morning, he toured the parsonage, which was furnished but had an empty space waiting for a dining-room table. “I took the job and put a pool table there,” Yow said.
After watching trick shots on the Internet and ESPN, Yow tried some out and had a knack for them. He bought a laptop and video camera, then started putting his own shots online. Beginning with just a few videos, Yow’s Web site grew, his videos bouncing around the Internet and fans requesting more.
“It wasn’t long before I got encouraged to take the show on the road,” Yow said.
For Yow, pool is a passion but also part of a life lived by faith.
“If God has given me the ability to play pool, to be an attorney with … much fervor and to do the ministry, who’s to say … that I need to pick one?” Yow asked.
Jeff Teal, member of the Brinkley church, acknowledged Yow’s attempts to follow God’s lead in several directions, all at one time.
“I get the impression that he’s very focused, with a lot of things going on,” Teal said. “His focus is Christ, it’s not pool playing, … it’s not being a lawyer.”
Yow, who teaches a Bible class at the Hilldale church in Clarksville, sees overlap between the areas of his life, with pool playing providing unique opportunities to share the gospel.
For example, a trick shot that skillfully gets a cue ball out from behind a wall of balls blocking it can serve as a pool-table parable about how “God provides a way out” of difficulties, Yow explained. He added that pool can be a metaphor for the need to deal responsibly with life’s difficulties. “There are a lot of obstacles, and there’s strategy.”
Sometimes pool facility owners warn Yow not to preach too hard to their drinking and gambling customers, he said. In that setting, “what I can do is plant seeds,” Yow explained. “I’ll stop, and I’ll say, “I can’t go on without telling you … God blessed me with the dedication. God blessed me with the ambition.’
“I give credit where credit’s due,” Yow said. “I want to do all for the glory of God.”
Oct. 1, 2007

Filed under: People Staff Reports

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