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Playing for the highest stakes

David Parz and his mother, Sharon DeGraff, are pool players aiming to rack up national titles. But their mutual love and respect represent trophies of a championship they already share.

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2002


Usually DJ Parz's vision is limited: Four and a half feet one way, nine the other. But nowadays, that short-sightedness is exactly what allows him to see his way clearly to Las Vegas, a trip he'll be taking next month with his mother.

David "DJ" Parz is 27, an age when young men generally relish keeping their parents a safe distance from their lives, but being out of the range of parental interference doesn't concern him. He relishes the closeness, enhanced by a seemingly unlikely vehicle: pool.

The Pinellas Park resident won the regional 8-ball championship in Orlando recently, qualifying to play for the national title in May. He also won the 9-ball title. His mother, Sharon DeGraff, will be there to cheer him on.

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[Times photos: Kinfay Moroti]
David "DJ" Parz uses a bridge to help him sink a hard-to-reach corner pocket shot during league play Thursday at Side Pockets Billards in Pinellas Park.
"My son's very good, and I'm very proud of him," she says.

But there's no guarantee she'll be there to cheer all of his matches. Not because of the irresistible lure of the gaming tables or the fabled shows. She will be busy trying to win her own matches. She also will be competing for the national championship. DeGraff won the regional championship for her skill level -- without losing a game in five matches -- also qualifying for the paid trip to Vegas.

In the process, DeGraff and Parz made history. They are the first mother/son pair to qualify to compete for the national championships by winning at the same regional tournament, according to Mike Konak, operator of the American Poolplayers Association league in which the two compete locally.

A steady stream of poolplayers and nonplayers walked up to congratulate them and wish them luck in Pinellas Park Thursday as their team competed at Side Pockets Billiards against a team from the Sports Bar and Grill. Mother and son won their matches handily against weaker opponents.

But as they played, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that this game to them isn't all about pocketing pool balls and winning games, though both are competitive and like to win. This is about a mother and son, in a time when the opposite seems to be the norm, who can relate to each other.

"David has been playing since he was 8 years old," DeGraff said, adding that she has played about 15 or 16 years and started competing in organized leagues about six years ago.

"When I got started (playing in leagues), I just looked forward to getting a night out -- and the trip to Vegas was a possibility," she said.

Now?

"It has been a good thing for the family. My husband plays, my son plays. We sit around and discuss games. It has brought us together."

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Sharon DeGraff lines up a shot during league play last week at Side Pockets Billards in Pinellas Park. "Going to Las Vegas in May for the tournament means a lot to me. I've played there before as part of a team. But this time I'm going because of my singles play -- I'm proud of that," DeGraff says.

That closeness was on display during the match Thursday. Parz, who plays at a higher skill level than DeGraff, was as focused on his mother's games as he had been on his own. When she found herself in a tough position, she didn't have to request one of the two coaching sessions that rules allow for each game. Parz would beat her to the punch, calling a timeout to discuss the shot with her.

"He likes to coach me. He jumps up if I'm about to do something stupid," she said.

For some players, such interruptions can become more distraction than benefit, but DeGraff appreciates the attention her play gets from her son. "He's better than I am, much better, and I know I can learn from him."

DeGraff's husband, Bob, who plays on a different team, will accompany them to Vegas. "Bob is going to be our cheerleader," she said.

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"When he first started playing I taught him a lot, but now he always teaching me. I guess the student has become the teacher," says Sharon DeGraff of her son, David.
When I heard of the pair's achievement, it struck me as something I wanted to write about, perhaps because of the pride I sensed in the people who told me. Usually the tone says more about the people than about their accomplishment. When an obnoxious person wins a title, the news travels as grudgingly as the reluctant answer to a question. When the news is enthusiastically heralded without provocation, you want to meet the people. The title becomes secondary.

So it was with the news of Parz and DeGraff.

It is not monumental, the little piece of history DeGraff and Parz claimed. It was just a pool tournament, just one of those little achievements that will get a few minutes of notice from the relatively few people who are drawn to pool.

But perhaps that is what makes their accomplishment worthy of note.

Oh, the pool titles are okay.

But a mother and grown son who who can spend a lot of time with each other and like it, and not lose respect or feel threatened, rates higher than okay.

It might even rate a trip to Vegas.

-- To reach Elijah Gosier, call (727) 893-8650 or e-mail gosier@sptimes.com.

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