Philly comes in first at the World Pool Championship in Las Vegas.  The winners are a bar team from Port Richmond.

Philly comes in first at the World Pool Championship in Las Vegas. The winners are a bar team from Port Richmond.

The Eagles gave us the glory in 2018. The Phillies brought it home in 2008.

Now Philadelphia has clinched one of the pool world’s biggest honors — and we have a gutsy group of Port Richmond barroom shooters to thank.

Team #LepLife, representing The Crazy Leprechaun Bar & Grill, a beloved bastion of cold beer and all-you-can-eat crab legs, has won the American Poolplayers Association (APA) World 9-Ball Championship held in Las Vegas a few weeks ago

And if that wasn’t sweet enough, this is the first time a Philly team took a first place title in what Guinness World Records has recognized as the world’s largest pool tournament. The championships started in 1981 and have become international with 8 and 9-ball competitions.

The region, however, has not totally gone without bragging rights. Back in 1995, a Levittown team became the APA’s World 9-Ball champs, while a team from Ridley Park earned the top honor for 8-ball in 1991.

But this year, Philly’s #LepLifers outshone the 559 other 9-ball teams that made it into the amateur championship, with contestants coming from every state but North Dakota, as well as from Canada and Japan. Over the course of the year, nearly 30,000 teams competed locally and regionally, trying to qualify for the big contest.

In the end, it was #LepLife vs. the Rack Masters of Florence, Ky.

And the Philly crew reigned supreme — seven men and one woman whose day jobs range from the bar they play for, a nursing home, a towing company, the airport, IT, and real estate.

“The #LepLife team embodies what the APA is all about — people from all walks of life coming together and enjoying the sport of pool,” said APA spokesperson Jason Bowman. “You could tell early on they had great chemistry and were playing for each other. No matter who was at the table, they were determined to win it all.

“The folks back at The Crazy Leprechaun, as well as the city of Philadelphia, should be proud of what this group of people were able to accomplish by working together as a team.”

Some of the Philly players had been friends for years. Others were more recent pool buddies from The Crazy Leprechaun. Not so long ago, they got the inkling that they might have the makings of something big.

“We put the team together right after COVID,” said Mike Quinn, 44, #LepLife captain and one of The Crazy Leprechaun’s owners. “We came together with an idea to go out there and compete. And lo and behold, we won.”

Over the year of almost continuous play, keeping track of their performance and submitting records to the APA to try to qualify for the championship, all the players came through in their own ways for the team, according to Quinn.

But key to their hopes for going all the way was teammate Mhmoud “Mike” Saleh, 32, an avid pool player and their best shooter.

“His knowledge is one of the different strategies,” said Quinn. “What he knows, the things he sees, he likes Rain Man, but with pool. He’s just that good. It’s scary to watch him play.”

Saleh, who works at the bar, is more modest about his talents. Playing since he was 15, he travels to competitions near and far to improve his game.

“Every time I see a good player, I ask, ‘How do I do this?'” he said. “You’ve got to put your ego to the side and learn it’s a team effort.” And whatever Saleh learns, he passes on to his Philly teammates.

Victory was far from assured when the Crazy Leprechaun crew made it into the big tournament.

On the first day of the 9-ball competition, they lost their first match.

“We were like, ‘Oh well, it’s been fun,'” their captain said.

But the next day, they won. And the day after, and the day after that.

But on the morning of the final match with Kentucky, they got shattering news: Saleh couldn’t play.

The team’s overall ranking, under the APA’s system, had increased during the tournament. Saleh, as their highest ranked player, had to sit out the final because of his top ranking and tournament regulations.

“Now we had to do it without our best shooter,” said Quinn.

But even though Saleh couldn’t play, nothing prevented him from acting as team coach.

“He wouldn’t waste a second,” Quinn said. He literally pounced right up and yelled, “Time out!” Then he’d talk his teammate through the shot coming up. “‘Let’s do this, let’s talk about this.'”

But the tensions ran high. The Kentucky players were good. The match went the full five games. During the last game, Philly shooter George “Sonny” Johnston was up against a Kentucky shooter with a particularly high skill rating.

But then it was Johnston’s turn to break. He did — and went on to get every ball in. The Kentucky guy never got a shot. The match wasn’t over yet, but the momentum had turned.

When Philly potted the final ball, and victory was theirs, the #LepLife players resisted the impulse to scream. Instead, they did what they had planned — respectfully shook hands with their opponents and congratulated them on a good match.

The scene at The Crazy Leprechaun was another story. There was a viewing party at the packed pub watching via YouTube. The place exploded. Quinn was watching it on his phone.

“It was like when the Phillies won the World Series — drinks just everywhere in the air,” he said.

That night, the team hit the town for dinner and celebration. They had $20,000 to split among themselves — their prize as 9-ball champs.

Some of them even had a bit more to party with. Three of the #LepLifers and some other Crazy Leprechaun shooters competed in the 8-ball division of the tournament — their team was What Happened Was — and tied for third place. They shared $7,500.

Back in Philly, the players have had no shortage of props.

“Like the other day, I was in the supermarket,” said Quinn. “Some people were saying, ‘Congratulations!’ They were giving me high fives. I said, ‘Thanks.’ I had no clue who they were.”

Saleh, the star shooter turned coach, also has lots of praise for his teammates.

“It wasn’t about the money. It was about the team winning the tournament,” he said. “It was a first for the team. And it’s good for the city, too.”

And their first may not be their last. Over at The Crazy Leprechaun, they’re already shooting for next year.

Said the captain: “The goal is to try to get three teams in.”


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