Archiver > MCGINNIS > 2003-10 > 1067529165

From: Howard McGinnis <>
Subject: McGinnis, Ruth - Billiard Champion
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 05:52:45 -1000

Honesdale's Ruth McGinnis Remembered: Maple City Billiards Star Was Women's
Sports Pioneer

HONESDALE - A poolroom philosopher friend of mine is fond of saying that
there are no coincidences in this world of ours. Maybe he's right.

Deja-vu All Over Again

One night last week, I found myself shooting stick on the red felt at
Cordaro's CC Lounge. While awaiting my turn at one point during the
evening, I was transfixed by the big screen TV that dominates a corner of
the room.

Smiling out at me with a pixelized face much larger than life, was women's
golf pioneer Annika Sorenstam. The fearless Swede had just come off the
course at the Colonial in Texas. She'd shot a 1-over par 71 on the more
than 7,000-yard layout...the first woman since 1945 to play a competitive
round in a sanctioned PGA tour event.

More than 58 years ago, it was the irrepressible world-renown 'Super-Girl',
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who'd accomplished the feat. The Babe qualified
for that year's Los Angeles Open and actually made the cut before slogging
her way to a third day 79 and elimination.

As I watched Annika deal gracefully with the hundreds of questions and
constantly popping flashbulbs, an overwhelming feeling of deja vu swept
over me. Turning to look at the wall that runs perpendicular to the big TV,
I understood why.

On that plush, carpeted wall of the CC Lounge...overlooking the very pool
table upon which I was playing...hangs a picture of a Wayne County athletic
im-mortal: Ruth McGinnis.

There are very few of my generation who even recognize Ruth's name, much
less know the extent of her athletic accomplishments. We're going to remedy
that right here and now. For, as much as Annika Sorenstam is to be
congratulated for her courage, she is following a path first blazed by he
likes of Babe Didrikson Zahar-ias and Honesdale' very own Ruth McGinnis.

A True Sports Pioneer

Ruth McGinnis was born in the Maple City back in 1910, the daughter of Mr.
& Mrs. TJ McGinnis, Broad Street.

Locally, Ruth was something of a celebrity from an early age. Her Dad owned
and operated a poolroom on South Main Street near what is now the State
Store. TJ McGinnis was an affable fellow whose main claim to fame was being
the very last canal boat captain in Honesdale.

Upon his retirement from the Delaware & Hudson, TJ opened his billiards establishment which his family helped run. In those days, it was
considered unlady-like to frequent a poolroom. Nevertheless, a young Ruth
McGinnis became a fixture in her father's place of business.

Under TJ's tutelage, it became quickly apparent that Ruth had a natural
affinity for the game of billiards. Despite the social stigma attached...
and the fact that she was a very small girl (5'3", 122 lbs. and left-handed
to boot!)...Ruth began to win matches against everyone she
play-ed...including the men.

The earliest documented hint of Ruth's impending fame came from local
newspapers between the years of 1917 and 1921. Honesdale and Scranton
sportswriters began mentioning the Maple City lass at the age of seven,
calling her: "an up & coming cue champion."

According to legend, Ruth was 'discovered' by then world billiard champion
Ralph Greenleaf. Though that fact is disputed by others, it was Greenleaf
who made the trek to Honesdale and watched Ruth with his own eyes.

By 1925, the national press had also started to take notice of Ruth's
undeniable talents.

In its November 1925 edition Billiard Magazine reported: "William
Rosenbaum, manager of the 14th Street Academy, New York, thinks he has
discovered the next pocket billiard champion in the person of Ruth McGinnis
of Honesdale. She is 14-years-old, and in a game with Henry Adams, won by a
score of 50-12 in three innings. Her high run was 28."

Ruth had arrived.

The Babe..and Ruth

At the height of her billiards fame, Ruth McGinnis took center stage for
what would become the most famous challenge match of the era.

In the winter of 1932, Honesdale's favorite daughter was challenged to a
billiards showdown with the legendary Babe Didrikson.

Having just returned from a triumphant showing at the summer Olympics in
Los Angeles, Miss Didrikson was her usual brash & confident self. Babe
brought home two gold medals (80M high hurdles, javelin) and a silver (high

Unquestionably the best all-round woman athlete in the world at that time,
Didrikson was convinced she'd overpower her diminutive opponent.

After weeks of wrangling, the event was set. Ruth and The Babe would face
off in a billiards match the weekend of January 14-15, 1933. It would be
held in Manhattan at Capitol Billiards, located on Broadway & 53rd Street,
and sponsored by the National Billiard Association of America.

When the weekend finally arrived, a record crowd paid a dollar a head entry
fee to witness the event. Among the throng were sportswriters from every
one of the NYC papers. They'd all come to witness what had been billed as
the First Championship Match of Women's Pocket Billiards.

Alas for the scribes and the paying public, it didn't turn out to be much
of a match. The little lass from Honesdale jump-ed out to an early lead on
her world-famous opponent and never let up. When the dust finally settled,
Ruth McGinnis had annihilated Babe Didrikson by a final score of 400-62.

The next day's Brooklyn Times-Union reported: "Ruth McGinnis, the
Honesdale, PA pocket billiard champion, defeated Mildred 'Babe' Didrikson,
Olympic champion..."

The New York Times was less charitable, saying: "Babe Didrikson may be a
great all-round athlete, but as a pocket billiard player, well, the less
said, the better."

Camden, New Jersey's Courier agreed: "Mildred 'Babe' Didrikson may be a
world beater at track & field athletics, but she's not so hot at pocket

Ruth's triumph over the great Babe Didrikson was one of the shining moments
in a career filled with high points. However, it also had the unexpected
effect of opening doors previously thought locked forever to a female

Bring on Mosconi

On the heels of her very public New York City coup, Ruth McGinnis was
approach-ed by the Brunswick Company about a possible nationwide tour. Ruth
became the lone woman on a roster of 21 professional billiards players.

Led by the infamous Willie Mosconi, Ruth and her band of traveling cue
artists covered more than 28,000 miles in the summer of 1934. The tour was
such a success that it was revived again and again throughout the 1930s. By
the time she finally gave up her barnstorming ways, Ruth had traveled in
excess of 200,000 miles.

Over the course of these tours, Ruth played an estimated 1,532 matches.
Unbelievably, she lost only 29 times. That represents an eye-popping
winning percentage of .981.

Largely from this experience...and on the word of fellow billiard players
like Mosconi... the McGinnis was accorded an invitation to compete in a
national championship event.

According to the then governing body of American pocket billiards, the
National Billiards Association, the invite was extended because, "Miss
McGinnis has been without suitable competition in her field for several years."

It was an historic moment; but not an unexpected one. Ruth had been meeting
all comers for more than a decade. In that time, she'd defeated self-styled
'champions' from coast-to-coast...the vast majority of whom were men.

Though she didn't win that Philadelphia tournament, she did post several
victories in individual matches...a fact that led to feature stories in
Ripley's Believe it or Not and Time magazine. Additionally, Ruth was signed
to a movie deal by Warner Brothers.

National Accolades

It took many years for Ruth McGinnis to receive the notice she so richly
deserved. Though she died in 1974, her influence in women's sports,
especially billiards, is nearly impossible to measure.

Ruth was inducted into the Women's Professional Billiards Association Hall
of Fame in 1976. She was accorded a similar honor by the Billiards Congress
of America in 1997.

In addition to her poolroom prowess, Ruth was a super all-round athlete.
While at Honesdale High School, she was the captain & high scorer for a
girls varsity basketball team that was named PA State Champion (1928). Ruth
tallied 341 points (36 in one game) in leading the Lady Hornets to a 14-1
overall record.

At East Stroudsburg State Teachers' College, Ruth played field hockey,
soccer, golf, soccer, and softball. She also became a life guard and was
credited with saving the life of a drowning man. For several summers she
was in charge of all life guards at The Deeps on Fair Avenue.

Ruth retired from the sporting life and eventually settled back in
Honesdale. For a time, she taught the physically challenged outside
Philadelphia before passing away in 1974.

Wayne Independent (Honesdale PA) 2003-05-28

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