Saturday, January 7, 2012

Is Shuffleboard Worth Preserving?

In my own personal quest for the Fountain of Youth, I purchased a vintage magazine ad on eBay recently showing Ponce de Leon being pursued by an overzealous insurance salesman. The briefcase-toting MONY executive attempts to sell a retirement plan to the Spanish explorer by pitching the quintessential Florida senior lifestyle: "Think of those carefree, sun-filled hours in Miami Beach or St. Petersburg ... Bocci, shuffleboard, canasta." Juan Ponce, running away from the salesman yells back "Who needs to prepare for retirement when he can expect eternal youth? Shuffleboard, indeed! Not for Ponce de Leon! I'm taking up football!"

This ad sums up the perception and reality of shuffleboard in Florida: it's a game played by retirees with nothing better to do than push a plastic disk back and forth on a cement court. Throughout the 20th century as more senior citizens retired to the sunshine state for a lifestyle of leisure, one of the primary amenities communities offered them was shuffleboard. And for the senior population of Florida, the game is still very much alive. Also this week, I got my hands on a copy of the Florida Shuffleboard Association's guidebook, and the organization, in its 84th year, seems to be going strong.

Yet all over Florida I see neglected shuffleboard courts covered with leaves and weeds, never being utilized. In Orlando there are beautiful courts at the Marks Street Senior Center that I've never seen used. My assumption is that snowbirds and retirees remain committed to the game, the overall numbers are diminishing as younger generations find other leisure activities more appealing. Two good examples are the KAST club, who's number fell so low that the City of Kissimmee had no problem demolishing their courts to build a picnic pavilion, and the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, at one time the world's largest, whose numbers dwindled below a hundred until its recent renaissance.

Neglected courts in a city park in Green Cove Springs, Florida

Neglected courts at a city park in DeLand, Florida

Neglected courts at a city park in Keystone Heights, Florida

A similar situation is playing out in Lake Worth Florida. After offering municipal courts to shufflers for 80 years, the city closed it courts last year and the 100 member strong Lake Worth Shuffleboard Club was forced to play at Boynton Beach. Despite hosting four tournaments a year, the number of shufflers had gotten so low, that city is considering demolishing the courts to create green space, according to an article published last year in the Sun Sentinel. According to one source, the Lake Worth club was so irritated at their treatment from the city, they wouldn't consider returning even if the 28 courts were preserved.

The large complex in Lake Worth has a community center
that was most recently used as a day labor center

So should the courts be saved? Lake Worth resident Wes Blackman sums up the argument for preserving the courts this way: "We were a middle class tourist destination of the 20th Century - and in Florida, that meant you had shuffleboard courts. I think it is important to hang on to important elements of that history."

Historic images of shuffleboard in Lake Worth

I think the larger question is, if the city allows the courts to survive, can shuffleboard be made relevant to a younger group of players? The St. Pete Shuffleboard club has shown it can be done, but it take s a big commitment of energy by creative individuals. My hope is that this younger Floridians rediscover this incredibly fun game, and this colorful part of Florida's past shuffles on into the future.

If you are interested in having your voice heard in the discussion of Lake Worth's shuffleboard courts fate, you can send a letter to:

Lake Worth City Hall
7 North Dixie Hwy.
Lake Worth, Florida 33460
Reference: Shuffleboard Court Building or Save the Shuffleboard Courts or January 25th Charette

Or email: Mayor Pam Triolo
Vice-Mayor Scott Maxwell
Commissioner Christopher McVoy
Commissioner Andy Amoroso
Commissioner Suzanne Mulvehill

Or you can attend the Lake Worth Shuffleboard Building Community Meeting on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Shuffleboard at its peak of popularity in St. Pete

A recent St. Pete Shuffle on a Friday Night in November


  1. As soon as I saw you call them "Shufflers" all I could think of was the LMFAO song - Everyone's Shufflin! :-)

    I'm sure that could be used as a call to arms for the shuffleboard folks.

    We played shuffleboard during our vacation at the Caribbean Motel in Wildwood NJ, it was fun - and harder than it looks!

  2. Enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!