Boise State students walk through the Student Union Building everyday for a plethora of reasons. It may be to get a Subway sandwich or take a shortcut to get to class on time.
But every day many of those students walk by the Boise State Games Center and never take a peek at what’s going on at the 11 pool tables.
If they did look, they would notice Charlie Paul. He doesn’t attend Boise State and he’s not enrolled in high school yet.
Paul is a seventh grader at Riverstone International School. He’s also the baby-faced assassin that probably will steal your lunch money if you decided to challenge him in a game of pool.
For the last five months, he’s been a regular on the Boise State University Games Center tables and Bronco students might not have realized it.
The Mental Fortitude
The x factor that strikes you when conversing with the 14-year-old is that he doesn’t speak like one.
Even his friends, who are curious with his infatuation for the game know this.
“They always ask ‘Why pool? Why not basketball or something,’ and I always tell them, ‘It takes as much skill to play pool as it does any other sport,’” Paul said. People might not think that. They think, ‘Oh I can shoot four or five balls in a row,’ but it comes down to more than that. There’s a lot more involved in the sport once you understand the professional aspect.”
As Boise State Games Center Assistant Manager Tyler Zacharisen has gotten to know Paul better, he has been able to notice this as well.
One day, the two once talked about the housing market in Vermont.
“That’s kind of the difference between him and a typical middle schooler. Super friendly, super outgoing,” Zacharisen said. “It’s hard to gauge someone’s intelligence off of a few conversations, but he is well-spoken. He talks like a college kid.”
Being a college kid is something Paul has already thought about. For now it’s all about being the best pool player he can possibly be.
“I could see myself dedicating myself to professional pool, but I’ve always been interested, especially these past couple years, in business,” Paul said. “That’s kind of my plan is to go to school for that, but pool is something that I want to take as far as I can, whether that’s tournaments or professional play.”
It all started in late October 2016. Paul was visiting his brother at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. The youngster and his father were hanging out at the hotel and as they were walking through, his Dad offered to teach him how to play some pool.
This was the first time Paul had ever touched a pool stick, but as the balls accelerated into the awaiting pockets, his obsession with the sport began.
“The night after I started playing pool, I went back to my hotel room, was on my phone and was looking at professional pool,” Paul said. “Every day, I watch how the pros do it, and every little thing about how they are playing the tables. And I started to strategize it.”
As soon as he got back to Boise, the process of finding a regular place to play began. Paul first started playing at Emerald Lanes, but one day his friend mentioned the Boise State University Games Center had some tables.
“I rushed over here after school, and it was like a dream to me,” Paul said. “11 tables, all in good condition. At that point I didn’t have any equipment of my own so I picked up a house cue and started playing.”
The Learning Curve
On most days, Paul’s father will drop him off. If not, he will Uber or ride his bike the six-to-seven mile distance to get his practice sessions in.
About five days a week since October, Paul has been giving himself a healthy dosage of the Games Center pool tables. Many of those days, Zacharisen has sat behind the counter checking out a table to Paul.
“When he first started playing pool, he really wasn’t that good,” Zacharisen said. “He was like any other middle schooler coming in here. But five days a week, coming in here Saturdays and Sundays he started playing with the regulars. Now he’s one of the best that comes here.”
Paul knew that he had some talent when he started, but there was an adjusting process that needed to happen.
“There was a lot of polishing I had to do. I could see the shots and I could kind of understand the points of the game but there was a lot of polishing from my stance to my stroke to everything about how I play,” Paul said. “I feel like I’ve come a really long way since I first started.”
One day, back when Paul was still figuring out the nuances of the game, Zacharisen decided he wanted to square off with the 14-year-old, thinking he could still beat him.
“He kicked my ass. I played him once and I told him if he beat me I’d give him free pool,” Zacharisen said. “As he got better he bought the glove, brought his own stick. When I played him he had just gotten the glove, so I thought I could catch him. He beat me bad.”