Biltons took first and second place in world shuffleboard tourney

Every sport has its own unique approaches.

For Myrna and Rendall Bil­ton, the sport is shuffle­board. Not the type found in bars, but  played on concrete courts.

They recently returned from Aus­tralia, where the Can­a­dian men’s team won the world title, and the women’s team was runner-up to first-time winner Japan. Having a husband and wife make the national team in the same year is not an easy feat, but they were chosen from 138 contenders.

Myrna Bilton said it is not so much skill as how a person will represent the country that helps the organizers determine who makes the team.

With the Biltons, it ap­pears to be both. They com­peted against Australia, Ger­many, Japan, the United States, and a United Nations team in the 27th annual World Champi­onship.

How did a couple from Bel­wood get involved in a sport of little prominence in Centre Wellington? Rendall Bilton has the answer. “Out here, there’s a pile of us who go to Florida. It’s a huge sport down there.”

He has played the barroom shuffleboard, and there are simi­larities, but the playing surfaces vary great­ly in size.

In Florida, the Biltons live within an easy bike ride of a huge number of shuffleboard courts, each 60 feet long. A big difference is the scoring. In bar shuffleboard, the closer to the end of the board a player places a puck the higher he scores. In the longer game, players try to push their opponents’ six-inch wide pucks to the top of the triangle, for minus-ten.

Rendall said shuffle­board is popular in London, Coldwater, and Picton, in Ontario, but, “Unless you’re from that area, you don’t know anything about it. It’s not in the Olympics – yet.”

The couple plays in a Flor­ida league and there are 10 different courts north of Fort Myers. Their set-up in Lee City has 24 courts – all under a roof.

He said when they got into a tournament or two, “We were fairly successful.”

When Midland hosted the world championships they attended. They were both hook­ed. They recognized some Am­erican players they played in Lee City, and made friends from around the world.

“I wondered if we could apply,” Rendall Bilton said of the national team. “We were both lucky to be picked.”

He also wondered if they were good enough.

As for wearing that Cana­da jacket and playing for Canada, Myrna Bilton said, “It’s a little more intense when you’re playing for your country.” The teams march into the tournament area with their national anthem playing.

Rendall Bilton said, “It gives you a funny feeling in your stomach.”

Myrna Bilton loved the camaraderie among teams, many of whom could not speak their opponents’ language.

Rendall said he suf­fered one loss in the event to a player from Germany who was ecstatic to win his first game at the tournament. They became fast friends.

As for the game itself, the players use a long stick to push pucks down the court. The pucks are three-quarters of an inch thick, and six inches across. “They say if you are an ace curler, you make a good shuf­fleboard player,” Myrna Bilton said.

But, “We don’t have a skip up there telling you what to do.”

Rendall said they attended five different matches across Ontario during the sum­mer “to try to get in shape for the World Championship.”

Shuffleboard has another facet that is part of curling. That is the Sportsmanship that is involved. Canadian teams went to Holland and Germany recently to help promote the sport and to teach it.

The world championships will be in Germany in 2010. The Cana­dian teams have been very successful over the years. The men’s team has won the world title 18 times in 27 years, and the women have won it 16 times in that same span.

While she did not return home with a gold medal win, Myrna Bilton was also honoured.

Rendall explained that each captain of the teams selects a Sportsman’s merit award, and, “My wee sweetheart was picked.”

Myrna said, “I didn’t think my knees would carry me up” to the stage to get the award.

The next world title will be contested in the United States.

The Biltons said if their health holds out, they will both be trying to make those teams.