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Lemoine, Sr. and England go undefeated to take 1st Charlie Ray Classic in Colorado

Charlie Ray

In May of 2020, Charlie Ray of Lakewood, CO decided precisely when he was going to die. A long-time, well-known and well-respected member of the greater Denver pool community, Ray had been diagnosed with ALS in 2014. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive, degenerative motor neuron disease that destroys the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS does not generally affect a person’s sensory functions or mental faculties. While the average life expectancy after diagnosis is between two and five years, Stephen Hawking, as a famous example, lived more than 50 years after he was diagnosed, with his mental faculties intact for many of them.

A few weeks prior to his death, Charlie Ray was talking to a pair of friends, Duane Perea and Audra Wasson, owner and manager, respectively, of Felt Billiards and Restaurant in Englewood, CO. He had already decided that, with assistance, he was going to determine the date of his death. Included and initiated by him, was discussion about the organization of a tournament bearing his name that would benefit the ALS Association, dedicated to finding a cure and which had helped him a great deal during his six-year battle with the disease. The night before he died, he was discussing further particulars of the event with Tony Piazza, owner of Piazza’s Italian Sports Bar in Aurora, CO and Maria Finley, a personal friend, in which he articulated his format preference (Scotch Doubles 8-Ball), to include specific details about certain rules.

Charlie Ray died at the age of 57 on May 22, 2020.

“I was just a player that Charlie picked up in a Calcutta,” explained Maria Finley of her association with the tournament’s namesake. “I was an unknown and from that point on, we became friends.”

“Later,” she added, “I was looking to upgrade my cue and I was trying to sell the one I had for the $250 I needed for the upgrade. He bought the cue and later, I found out that he’d just given it away. This wasn’t just about me. He was like that with everybody.”

The tournament that Finley helped to organize and run, in Charlie Ray’s name, on behalf of the ALS Association was delayed by circumstances associated with the pandemic for 14 months. Held this past weekend, July 23-25, the $4,000-added ($2k from each location) Charlie Ray Classic drew 67 Scotch Doubles teams to two locations, Felt Billiards and Piazza’s. The 67 teams were split more or less in half, with 34 teams beginning a double elimination format at Piazza’s Italian Sports Bar, while the remaining 33 teams began a double elimination format at Felt Billiards and Restaurant. When there were eight teams left at both locations (four on the winners’ side and four on the loss side), those 16 teams began a double elimination bracket at Piazza’s on Sunday.

The team of Damond Lemoine, Sr. and Justin England spent the entire weekend at Piazza’s, making it to the final four on the winners’ side of the Group A Bracket there and finishing undefeated in the final 16-team event on Sunday. The team of James and Chris Salazar, which finished as runners-up, spent their entire weekend at Piazza’s, too, although they experienced a much different path to the finals. They lost their opening match and then won 11 loss-side matches in a row; five of them in the preliminary bracket and six more in the final 16 bracket on Sunday. They also won the opening set of a true double elimination final, before Lemoine, Sr. and England gathered themselves and won the second set.

Both of the final two teams had remarkable runs, based on the average number of racks they gave up in their races to 4. Lemoine, Sr. & England won 31 games of the 44 they played, by an average score of 4-1.6. The Salazars won 51 of the 70 games they played by an average score of 4-1.2. This takes into account the two games they lost in which they gave up four points each to two opponents. 

Lemoine, Sr. & England had two double hill matches, one of which (versus the Salazars) they lost, one shutout (versus the father/son team of Tesars, John Sr. and Jr.), and four matches in which they gave up only a single rack, including the second set of the true double elimination final. The Salazars won the only double hill match that they played (the opening set of the final), they gave up a single rack five times and shut out over half of the opponents they faced on the loss side of two brackets (6 of the 11 they played).

“James (Salazar) is sneaky good,” said Maria Finley, “and his cousin, Chris, is a good shot, as well.” 

“In this community,” she added, “if you’re a Salazar, you’ve got a cue in your hand. That would be a fact.”

Finley and her tour-direction-by-committee colleagues thanked the ownership and staffs at both Felt’s and Piazza’s, to include committee members Duane Perea (Felt owner) and Tony Piazza (Piazza owner), Shane Gedo (SMFG Billiards for live streaming) and Doug Seeley, who helped tour-direct the event at Felt Billiards, as well as Patrick Roy (co-owner of Piazza’s) and DJ Conley, who tour-directed the Piazza activities. 

The event raised $4,525 for the ALS Foundation through funds that were a part of the event entry fees, as well as funds raised by drawings for items and services, donated by Lifetime Windows and Sidings, Colorado (four cues, valued at $1,675), Samm Diep-Vidal (contributed three hours to personal stroke analysis lesson, plus two 1-hour lessons; total value $330), MultiSport/Matchroom (two sets of two tickets to the 2021 US Open, plus a set of Arcos balls that are used during the event), Howie and Renee Norman ($100 cash toward a purchase of 2 Predator Air2 jump cues for the drawings), Terry Duncan ($200 for the same cue purchase and later, a Smokey Joe Grill), Cuestix International (two cues), Bear Down Billiards (Chisolm Woodson for two long-sleeve shirts),  the Felt Ladies VNEA team (Caela Henley-Huddleston, Summer Gage, Christine Honeman and Kathy Crump for a gift basket full of assorted items that one might need while playing in a tournament), Joshua Ramey (Bad Roll, Inc, for one autographed print each of Scott Frost, Dennis Orcollo and Shane Van Boening), and Havoc Productions (Chad Shoulder, for two prints of Billy Thorpe, Roberto Gomez and Skyler Woodward – Charlie Ray’s favorite player – autographed by all three players).

Plans are already underway for the 2nd Annual Charlie Ray Classic, honoring the man by raising funds to combat the disease that led to his death.