Ashton Twins Bring Social Distancing and The Proximity of Help Together With a 9-ball Battle

Bev Ashton and Valerie Franiel
To women struggling with issues of domestic abuse, self-isolation in their home has the potential to be as dangerous as the Covid-19 virus. The need to escape the violence becomes much more acute and the agencies normally positioned to be of assistance get overwhelmed with aid requests, while at the same time, donations diminish. On Saturday, April 11 at The Hidden Spot in Calgary, the pool-playing Ashton Twins (Bev and Joanne) got together for a benefit 9-ball match; a race to 19 between them and after them, two brothers (Guy and Andrew Nicklin), that solicited donations for a local domestic abuse organization called Gems for Gems.
Five years ago, a friend of Bev Ashton, Jordan Guildford, used a teenage memory to launch a charitable campaign designed to benefit the victims of domestic abuse. As detailed in a blog post by Mica Lemiski on the Hillberg & Berk Web site, when they were teenagers, Guildford and her siblings had pooled the money their grandmother had given them to purchase Christmas gifts for themselves and used it, instead, to purchase a bracelet for their single Mom “that looked like leaves woven together.” Initially, when, upon opening the package, their Mom burst into tears and left the room, the siblings thought that they’d made a mistake, but when she returned, and explained to her children that the gift had, in fact, “reconnected her to being a woman and an individual, the link between jewelry and personal empowerment had been made clear to Jordan.” 
Fueled by the memory of her mother and the bracelet, Guildford decided to spearhead a jewelry drive to collect accessories she would give to women in shelters on Christmas. She called the campaign “Gems for Gems,” the intended message being that gems in the community would donate gems to the gems (the women) in shelters on Christmas. With only three weeks to collect, she set a goal of giving 25 packages. She collected enough to do 436 packages.
Now, Gems for Gems is a nationally-registered charity whose mission has expanded beyond the realm of crowd-sourcing jewelry and into that of domestic abuse education and prevention. They still operate the annual jewelry drive, but their outreach now includes a scholarship program and a series of workshops designed to empower survivors.
Bev Ashton and Jordan Guildford became friends while exchanging pleasantries on treadmills at Orangetheory Fitness in Seton, a suburb of Calgary. When Jordan, in conversation with Bev, recently explained that domestic abuse was having a tendency to be more acute in these times of self-isolation, Bev conceived of the challenge match with her sister and set out to make it happen. 
They settled on The Hidden Spot location in Calgary and, to maintain self-isolation guidelines, determined that it would be a closed event, with just enough people to make it happen; no spectators, bar patrons, or excess personnel of any kind. They communicated with Valerie Franiel to enlist the support of her E-sports Productions company to set up a live stream and the function of $20 donations to the charity. They launched proceedings earlier than Saturday by offering on their streaming site a set of individual challenge matches between individuals with pool tables in their home and the ‘ghost’ (a hypothetical pool opponent in a structured game).
“Before we started streaming the Ashton twins,” said Franiel, “we had already raised $1,000.”
There were, noted Franiel, only six people in The Hidden Spot when the matches started. And the first glitch in the machinery, so to speak, came when everybody realized that as a result of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the room’s Internet service provider had suspended service. It took a while, a few hours, for them to get that connection up and running, but when it did, the matches began.
In the end, they raised just over $4,000 for Gems for Gems, as the FB stream drew nearly 10,000 viewers to the six-hour-plus streaming broadcast between the Ashton twins and then, the Nicklin brothers. The donations made each donor eligible to win one of two cues – a $1,000 (Canadian) Viking Custom Cue and a $1,500 (Canadian) Erbez Custom Cue - and a couple of Gems for Gems ‘swag bags,’ valued at $100 (Canadian) each. According to Bev Ashton, Jordan Guildford is more than happy with the donations to Gems for Gems.
“For her,” said Ashton, “$500 would have been cool, so with the $4,000, she was ecstatic.”
“We wanted to do something positive and good,” Ashton added, “while maintaining social distancing and offering some entertainment to people who are sitting bored in their houses.”
And oh yeah, there were a couple of pool matches broadcast on Saturday. The event opened with the Ashton twins, who should have been mic-ed to take advantage of their penchant for sibling trash talk that can border on the hilarious and for those who don’t know them, can occasionally sound vindictive. Joanne Ashton’s Web site, for example, notes that she was born 20 minutes before Bev and that it was the best 20 minutes of her life. 
Their Fargo rates are separated by 42 points (Bev/571 and Joanne/613), which, at the outset, in a race to 19, gave the higher-rated Joanne an 81.3% chance of winning the match (Fargo Rate match odds tend to give a higher-ranked player a better chance of winning with longer matches). 
“We have different styles,” noted Bev. “But she actually has more titles and has actually worked harder at it.”
Bev figured that the Fargo Rates were about right and generally speaking, represented their long-time hypothetical match score over a hypothetical 100 matches; Joanne, winning about 80 of the 100. It was Bev, however, who came out gunning. After a few back-and-forth matches to start things off, she opened up a substantial lead, which got as far as 10-3, before Joanne started the catch-up routine that would eventually tie them at 16. Win #17 represented Joanne’s first lead of the match, which she followed with two more to win it all.
The Nicklin brothers, Andrew and Guy, played a shorter race to 13. It was a much tighter match that went back and forth to an 8-8 tie, before Andrew pulled ahead to eventually win 13-9. 
“Everybody called it the battle of the almost-twins,” said Valerie Franiel, “because they look so much alike that everybody assumes they’re twins, but they’re not. Andrew is older by 13 months.”
According to Franiel, the success of this particular event has prompted her (and her company) to begin arranging for follow-up tournaments to include one this weekend (Saturday, April 18, 2 p.m., Mountain Time), which will feature a “Border Battle,” pitting Canadian Geoff Waterfall against USA’s Phillip Wright, who will each be playing against the ‘ghost’ from their home. Geoff will be in Rock Creek, British Columbia as Wright competes from Owatonna, Minnesota. Watch the E-Sports Productions Facebook page for further info on upcoming matches.
“I’m happy we went through it,” said Bev Ashton of her and Joanne’s benefit match; streaming glitch and eventually, loss to her sister, notwithstanding. “It was professional and fun and good.”  
The Ashton Twins and E-Sports Productions' Valerie Franiel thanked Viking Cues, Erbez Custom Cues, The Hidden Spot, Jennifer Miles with Desjardins Insurance, Brutal Game Gear, Philly’s Billiards and Gaijin Custom for their sponsorship of this event.