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Pool-playing family is right on cue

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    Van Ness Ohana, the first Hawaii team to qualify for the national billiards tournament in Las Vegas, poses with trophies. They are, from left, Steven Van Ness, Meghan Martinez, Justin Van Ness, Roger Van Ness Sr., Steve Van Ness, Kimberlee Van Ness and RJ Van Ness.

The family that plays together … gets a trip to Las Vegas.

The Van Ness ohana officially became the Van Ness Ohana when competing in weekly Oahu APA Pool League 8-ball play at Hawaiian Brian’s Billiards. The league victory advanced the team into the local qualifier at Pipeline Cafe.

The Van Ness Ohana dropped its first match before running the table through the loser’s bracket for the championship.

"We didn’t think we were going to win," team captain Steve Van Ness said. "We got in it to have fun as a family.


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"We won the Hawaiian Brian’s league and that was a surprise. Then we were really surprised to win the whole thing. We’re very excited about Vegas."

The ohana leaves today and will compete against 700 other teams from North America in the APA 8-Ball National Team Championships, Aug. 22-28 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino.

"I think they have a pretty good chance," said Dante Guagliardo, Oahu APA Pool League owner and operator. "This is the first time a Hawaii team is going. I feel like a proud papa."

Guagliardo has been through the birth process every step of the way. He moved to Hawaii from New Jersey as a union carpenter in 2007, but when jobs became scarce, he decided to find something that would keep him here and out of the cold.

Guagliardo knew pool and knew what it took to be a success. He had competed in the 2005 9-ball tournament and decided to look into an APA franchise.

After tests and background checks, Guagliardo had an eight-day training session in St. Louis. He returned to Honolulu and started building the league.

While most of the league is played in bars, Hawaiian Brian’s Billiards bills itself as a family entertainment center.

"It is a family atmosphere here, " Guagliardo said. "It’s why we’re so successful."

The league also uses a handicap system — similar to that of golf — that allows players of different abilities to compete against each other.

The abilities of the Van Ness Ohana vary, from little experience to being around the game for some 40 years. Steve and Kimberlee Van Ness’ Kaneohe home has a 9-foot table in the game room and Rodney "The Rocket" Morris — the No. 3-ranked player in the world — living in a guest room.

Members of the team include Steve, Kimberlee and son Steven; Steve’s brother Roger and sons RJ and Justin; and Steven’s girlfriend Meghan Martinez. The five-member competition team in Las Vegas will be Steve, Steven, Roger, RJ and Justin.

"We do most everything together," said Roger Van Ness, who replaced his brother as Kahuku varsity baseball coach two years ago. "My brother is a pool fanatic, has this beautiful pool room in house. They got me into this and I’ve been playing two seasons. Originally, we were going to be in a family bowling league.

"I’ve been a baseball coach my whole life, and I really like the competitiveness of pool."

"It is a lot like baseball," said Steven, who played for his dad and uncle at Kahuku. "It’s a thinking game. And I’m glad we can do this as a family."

"There is strategy, I just haven’t mastered it yet," Kimberlee Van Ness said. "I just started playing not too long ago. After all the years of watching them do ‘their thing,’ I decided that I could start learning.

"For Christmas, I got a cue stick. I guess that was a hint.

"This has been a nice bonding thing, something to build on and grow. It is competition, but it is a lot of fun, too."


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