ZEPHYRHILLS - When it comes to shuffleboard national championships, no one has more than Zephyrhills resident Earl Ball.
The 69-year-old has claimed 17 national crowns - three singles, three mixed doubles and 11 doubles titles - since picking up the game in 1996.
Ball is also the all-time leader with 336 national points, which are earned by placing near the top of tournaments, and has been inducted into the state, national and international halls of fame.
This from a man who thought he'd spend most of his retirement playing golf when he moved from Atlanta after retiring from General Motors.
"My father-in-law (Paul Bush) dragged me to the courts," Ball said. "The first time I played in a tournament, we lost our first four games. The second time, I doubled with my father-in-law, we won the second consolation match, and I was hooked."
Ball said the nature of the game reminded him of playing football, baseball and other sports growing up.
"Golf, it's you and the course, and if you're beating me by two strokes, I'm not allowed to go up and knock your ball into the woods," Ball said. "In shuffleboard, I can do that and you can do that to me. It's like a physical chess game."
The competitiveness drove Ball to constantly improve, and his reputation quickly spread around the state. Stan Williamson, one of the state's top players, took his shot to try and cool down the budding shuffleboard star in the summer of 1999.
"I heard about this new guy who was beating everyone, so I went to a tournament with the goal of taking him down a few pegs," Williamson said. "Well, he beat me and took me down a few pegs. Soon after, I told him if he ever wanted to play doubles for nationals or other tournaments, we'd be unstoppable."
The duo won Winter Nationals in January 2000, Ball's first national title, and has combined for six more, including Summer Nationals two months ago in Lakeland.
Williamson, of New Smyrna Beach, has been present for some of Ball's biggest wins, as has Vivian, his wife of 31 years.
"I get extremely nervous," Vivian said. "A lot of times, I have to walk away or go outside for a while before I come back. I am extremely proud of him and his accomplishments."
Vivian is as much a constant at the various courts around Zephyrhills as her husband, but she never competes.
"People ask me all the time why I don't play, and I tell them, 'One in the family was enough I guess,'" Vivian said with a laugh.
Ball said he still wants to become the state's all-time leader in wins. He currently has 85, 10 away from Glenn Peltier.
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.