Seven long months ago, I was what many in the office would consider an urban legend. I was the self-proclaimed Dave and Busters “Pop-A-Shot” king. Unbeaten in more than 20 straight head-to-head matches, I managed to frustrate my fellow co-workers with my Larry Bird-like skills. This, of course, led to a lot of bragging and maybe just a little inflation of my head. Ultimately, this discomfort in defeat had my fellow cohorts in a scramble to find something they could beat me at. And they finally found one — a sport in which quick reflexes, precision angle shots and diligent goal defense are the trademarks of a weathered veteran. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Air Hockey.
Air Hockey is a sport with an underground past. During the mid-70’s and 80’s the premiere manufacturer of air hockey tables was Brunswick. Engineers were working to create a frictionless surface and ended up spending most of their time whacking shit across it, thus creating the air hockey table. The game was most commonly found in bowling alleys bearing the Brunswick name until the arcade boom of the mid-80’s. The United States Air Hockey Association (USAA) was founded in 1975 and remains intact today as the official governing body of professional Air Hockey. The USAA maintains the rules and regulations for competitive air hockey and is the only recognized body for air hockey in the world.
It was merely blind fate that brought me to the air hockey table. I lost seven straight matches before capturing my first win. The tables had effectively been turned on this one time Pop-A-Shot king. I knew in order to win I would need to do more than just bang the puck around in an aimless fashion — I would need to know the strategy involved with setting up the best shots and effective methods of defending my goal. It was apparent to my colleague Jeff and me that air hockey was an underrated game of skill, talent and athletic ability, and we wanted to become the best we could be at playing it.
At first, Jeff and I were convinced that we were going to be the first “professional” air hockey players in the world. We discussed a Web site, the rules and how we would be officially sponsored by the biggest name in air hockey today, Dynamo. We envisioned matches on ESPN “The Ocho” following the international league of lawn darts and extreme foosball. To our goddamn amazement, the USAA was already there for us. So, for 2009 we made a pact to play air hockey at the highest level and obtain national rankings as recognized by the official body of professional air hockey. We were on our way to becoming professional athletes.
The more we played the more we discovered about the game, its history and players. This video on YouTube describes a little bit of that history and follows some current day players such as Danny Hynes, an assistant manager at Sears and a seven-time World Air Hockey Champion. The members of the USAA have been kind enough to extend the offer to play in this year’s World Air Hockey Championship even though Jeff and I had no professionally recorded bouts. In November of 2008, we started recording our games and now have each have played in more than 150 official games. Jeff had the initial edge, winning roughly two out of every three games. Things have began to level somewhat, and now we are close to 50/50 in games played over the past month.
So begins the trek to Vegas, for two amateur Cincinnati players — Jason “T Rex” Cornell and Jeff “Knuckles” Huisman — looking to make their professional debuts on the grandest stage of all March 13-15 at the Riveria Hotel & Resort Casino. And for the first time in CityBeat history, two soon-to-be professional athletes will keep a blog of the events and training leading up to the big event. This behind-the-scenes journey will display the heart and dedication to a thankless sport with little-to-no financial reward or fame or notoriety. Stay tuned for the updates, the heartaches and tough breaks during our journey to the elite level of air hockey.
Jason Cornell will update the Air Hockey Blog leading up to and during the championships in Las Vegas. Stay tuned for the story of the duo's first injury and subsequent surgery.