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Straight Shooter : Hacker-McWorter, Formerly a Hustler, Plays Pool Only on the Women's Circuit Now

August 24, 1995|ETHAN SKOLNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — For all of the unexpected twists in the cleverly conceived Hollywood script that is Jan Hacker-McWorter's life, there is a moment of irrevocable change.

That moment wasn't when the professional nine-ball player doubled for Michelle Pfeiffer in a billiards scene in the motion picture "Dangerous Minds"--which Hacker-McWorter hasn't seen even though she was a technical adviser for the script.

It wasn't when she appeared in a cameo in Showtime's steamy "Red Shoe Diaries."

It was when she found God.

When she did, she found herself. Once a model, hustler and transient, the newly drawn Hacker-McWorter is a wife, mother and born-again Christian.

And still a darn good nine-ball player. Though she occasionally takes cues from film directors, Hacker-McWorter, 33, makes her living taking cues--carved by her husband, Jerry--to billiards tournaments.

Today and Friday, she will be in San Francisco for the third of four invitational tournaments in the Gordon's 9-Ball Championship, the richest series in the history of the 19-year-old Women's Professional Billiards Assn.

Ranked 28th in the world, Hacker-McWorter received one of six wild cards to the 16-competitor event with a top prize of $20,000, thanks to the sponsorship of a gin maker. The association doesn't concern her.

"None of the girls [on the tour] are drunks and I'm not opposed to someone having a drink now and then," Hacker-McWorter said. "I don't have a broom handle."

Just three pool cues, one for breaking, another for playing, another for jumping.

Her husband--owner of McWorter Custom Cues--made them all in a shed behind their home in Ventura, though the sight of them--all are a bit unusual--embarrasses him.

"He won't show my cues to anybody," Hacker-McWorter said. "My shaft is thinner, to cause more deflection, and the cue is more butt-heavy. It's balanced unevenly, but I like it."

Hacker-McWorter likes a lot about her life these days.

"I am very, very blessed," Hacker-McWorter said. "Lots of good things are happening to me now."

For that, she credits faith. If another good thing is to happen in San Francisco, though, she will have to beat the woman--Robin Dodson--she credits for introducing her to that faith.

*

A pool hall, anywhere in America. Men wager, smoke, boast, shoot. In walks a woman.

"I was dressed to kill," Hacker-McWorter said. "No one thought this woman could play pool. Then I would win their money."

In "White Men Can't Jump," Woody Harrelson portrayed a hoops hustler, who swindled blacktop basketball players by capitalizing on his race.

In her life, Jan Hacker-McWorter played a pool hustler, who bamboozled billiards specialists by exploiting her gender.

Unfortunately, unlike Harrelson, Hacker-McWorter couldn't just take another role after the credits rolled.

"I wasn't happy," Hacker-McWorter said. "I would be broke one day, have $2,000 the next, then broke again."

It was common, she said, for her traveling party to drive 500 miles a day in a pilgrimage to the next big college town, the next populated pool hall.

Often, she saw guns pulled, fists raised. She just packed her cue stick away and moved on, enjoying the travel, hating the life.

"It was a mess," Hacker-McWorter said. "You take a chance of getting killed."

Her brother would pray for her. And so would Robin Dodson.

Dodson, the world champion in 1990 and 1991 and winner of the inaugural Gordon's 9-Ball Championship in 1994, is the second-ranked player in the WPBA. She is one of the favorites in San Francisco to advance to Friday's semifinals.

She is also a born-again Christian. Her answering machine message at her Garden Grove home intones: "God bless you and have a nice day."

Dodson met Hacker-McWorter in 1984, at a pool hall.

"The first thing she said to me was, 'What religion are you?' " Dodson said. "She would ask all kinds of questions."

They would encounter each other time and again, as the former played tournaments and the latter played nomad.

"I would continue to talk to her about Jesus, and what He did in my life," Dodson said. "About three years later, she said she wanted to learn too."

Hacker-McWorter moved in with Dodson, for the first of what would be many times, and began attending her church. They became best friends.

Hacker-McWorter's hustling days were done. For a time, she gave up pool too, a sport she had toyed with in her Chicago basement at the age of 9 and started taking seriously at 22, four years into a relationship with a pool-playing man.

As a young woman, she regularly shocked onlookers with her natural talent.

"I always knew I could turn pro," Hacker-McWorter said. "The only girls who played better than me were the pros."

So, after only five tournaments, she turned pro in nine ball in 1993, rising as high as 13th in the WPBA rankings before pregnancy forced her out of action again.

Since her son's birth five months ago, she doesn't practice much.

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