Early favorite, Atencio goes undefeated at 1st Annual Ronny Park Memorial Tournament

Jesus Atencio

On March 23, the pool community lost one of its dearest, true-blue friends, Ronny Park, who passed away, having contracted COVID when he was also battling a variety of pre-existing conditions. He was not what you’d call a household name, but within the community, there are very few places where he wasn’t known, beginning with his early days in Connecticut, and very few players who didn’t know of him. Some of you reading this may remember when Tommy Kennedy passed out at a tournament a few months ago and as he and his family began to deal with what proved to be a very slow but successful recovery, arrangements began almost immediately to raise money for Kennedy and his family. 

It was Ronny Park who set that financial assistance into motion. Kennedy joined 95 other players, including Park’s roommate for the last eight years, Kevin Shaw, along with Johnny Archer, BJ Ussery and the eventual undefeated winner of this first, though certain not to be the last memorial in Park’s honor, Jesus Atencio. In addition to a couple of days of top-notch competition, the $500-added event, held under the auspices of the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, also raised over $10,000 to help defer the costs associated with Park’s funeral.

As the flyer promoting the event noted, the event was designed to be a celebration of Park’s life, and at Josh Newman’s West End Billiards in Gastonia, NC, where Park spent a lot of time, that celebration was marked by the people who knew him gathering primarily outside the facility, because the facility itself, almost every inch of its available space, was occupied, as Park would likely have preferred, with pool tables and players. At the center of the event was Herman Parker, tour director of the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, who roomed with Park, early in their respective careers and room owner, Josh Newman, who offered food to those who gathered, both on Friday night as the players began to arrive and during both Saturday and Sunday while they played; the grill was going outside pretty much throughout the event.

In addition to being there for the family who’d done so much to help him personally, Kennedy donated some cues as raffle prizes, as did cue maker Daniel Heidrich, who, in addition to donating a cue valued at $2k, became the event runner-up after challenging Atencio twice. Herman Parker donated a Viking cue for raffle. One of the tour’s sponsors, Diamond Brat, purveyor of pool jewelry and giftware (including some terrific, acrylic designs for pocket markers) donated a portion of their proceeds to the benefit. Others took advantage of on-line ways to donate. 

“And,” Parker noted, “the cue that Ron used to shoot with was raffled off. It was a Shawn Putnam cue, in fact.”

The event officially got underway, late afternoon on Saturday, and at around 6 p.m., room owner Josh Newman and Johnny Archer squared off in a challenge match. Archer won the match 9-4.

One of the surprises that emerged late in the tournament was 16-year-old Landon Hollingsworth, who began his Saturday work with two victories, before running into Josh Newman. Newman sent him to the loss side, where Hollingsworth embarked on an eight-match, loss-side winning streak that would take him as far as the semifinals. Tour director Herman Parker, though reluctant to indicate that the teenager had “played way above his head,” not just because of the loss-side streak, but the quality of the opponents he faced and defeated down the stretch, described Hollingsworth’s loss-side run as a “ridiculous tear to third place.”

With Hollingsworth at work on the loss side, Jesus Atencio and Danny Heidrich advanced to the winners’ side semifinals. Atencio faced Hunter White, as Heidrich squared off against Chuck Ritchie. Heidrich defeated Ritchie 7-5 and in the hot seat match, faced Atencio, who’d sent White to the loss side 7-4. In their first of two, Atencio sent Heidrich to the semifinals 7-2 and sat in the hot seat, awaiting his return.

On the loss side, it was Hunter White, not long from being a junior player himself, who drew the teenager, Hollingsworth, six matches into his loss-side streak. Hollingsworth had already defeated last week’s winner on the tour, Sammy Manley, and a few other tour veterans like Bruce Campbell, Josh Heeter and David Anderson, before eliminating Joey Fox 5-2 and then, at the end of his match versus Tommy Kennedy, shot what Herman Parker described as “a ridiculous jump shot on the 8-ball and ran out” to defeat Kennedy 5-2, as well. Chuck Ritchie drew The Scorpion, Johnny Archer, who’d defeated Mike Bumgarner, double hill and BJ Ussery 5-3 to reach him.

Archer got by Ritchie 5-1, as Hollingsworth was at work shutting Hunter White out. The teenager couldn’t have picked a better opponent to chalk up what would prove to be his last win at the event than Johnny Archer. He did so in the quarterfinals 5-2.

Heidrich turned the tables on Hollingsworth, ending the young man’s impressive loss-side streak 5-2 and turning for a second shot against Atencio, waiting for him in the hot seat. Atencio hadn’t lost his edge waiting.

The final, an extended race to 9, took 26 minutes. With alternating breaks, Heidrich broke four times and failed to make a ball on any of them. Atencio ran each of those racks, and on his breaks, broke and ran all five times to shut Heidrich out. 

Much to the chagrin of Upstate AL, who ran a live stream on Saturday and most of Sunday, the streaming operation ran into what proved to be an insurmountable technical glitch that for all intents and purposes, shut the stream down on Sunday afternoon. The best matches of the tournament, which from all appearances, occurred near the end, with the teenager’s streak, the final matches of Kennedy & Archer, and the 26-minute final could not be seen. The problem was not with the streaming operation itself, but with the on-line infrastructure of the facility, which learned, late on Sunday, that a ‘fix,’ requiring a major overhaul of the room’s systems, wasn’t possible. “There was,” explained AL, “nothing we could do.”

Tour directors Herman and Angela Parker thanked Newman and his staff for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Viking Cues, BarPoolTables.net, Dirty South Grind Apparel Co., AZBilliards, Federal Savings Bank mortgage division and Diamond Brat. They also thanked the numerous individuals and groups that donated to the success of this 1st memorial in honor of their friend, Ronny Park, including Danny Heidrich and Tommy Kennedy for their cue donations for the raffles.

The next stop on the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour will be a three-day affair, getting under way this Friday, May 14 and continuing through until Sunday, May 16. The $3,000-added event will be hosted by Stroker’s Billiards, in Sumter, SC.