SIX hours before her scheduled appearance as a visiting pool-shooting celebrity at Jillian's Billiard Club, JoAnn Mason Parker arrives at the stylish Boston establishment carrying a cue case and a briefcase.
She is here to do business, accompanied by popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher, who has lent his name to something called the Reden*Budders Rack 'N Roll Trick Shot Tourney. As the featured attraction of this multicity amateur competition, Mason Parker will eventually give an exhibition. The first order of the day, however, is a media interview, one of many she conducts around the United States.
The nation's seventh-ranked female player demonstrates that she is a practiced hand in this setting, fielding questions, plugging sponsors as deftly as she dispatches billiard balls, and handing out glamorous glossy color photos of herself, pre-autographed in gold ink.
She is here, among other reasons, to speak of the new upscale image of billiards, which is readily evident in this 60-table club, where the posted dress code bans cellular phones as well as hats and sweat pants. ``Women have made a great impact on the sport because they've added a lot of credibility to it,'' she says.
In a very real sense, Mason Parker and other members of the Women's Professional Billiard Tour have exploded some of the old stereotypes.
One of these, she says, is the notion that pool players are gamblers and hustlers who spend a nocturnal existence living on the edge. ``It's totally untrue,'' she asserts. ``Most of our events begin at 11 a.m. sharp, and you'd better be up since about 9 if you want to be awake for your match.''
The women's circuit offers about two tournaments a month, with a small break during July or August for the billiard industry's annual trade show. That's a command performance for Mason Parker, who represents three clients - a pool table company, a cue-maker, and a billiards club.
THE industry seems eager to embrace players like Mason Parker, who put pocket billiards in a whole new light - more as a family activity, even a feminine one.
Sensitive to this thrust, Mason Parker says the movers and shakers of the Women's Professional Billiard Association have had ``many discussions on dress codes and how people need to present themselves.'' She adds that there is no difficulty in getting everybody ``to pull in the right direction ... because we all want the same thing. We would like major corporate sponsorship, to be on TV all the time, and have that name recognition that golf and tennis players have. Star status is really very much deserved.''
Mason Parker says she has worked hard to get where she is as a player and a spokeswoman.
Though she loves pool, and has been playing since age four, she approaches it like a 9-to-5 job. She practices on a set schedule in her Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., home, which has a billiards room decorated in pink and pastels. Her husband owns a resort hotel, so she says there is no financial necessity for her to work. But work she does, spending about four or five hours each day practicing, mostly with her father.
A former professional himself, Harvey Mason has coached his daughter ever since she joined the pro circuit as a precocious 17-year-old nine years ago. Mason Parker says she is his ``full-time project'' now. ``My dad comes over and we do a lot of drills,'' she says. ``We also discuss strategies and watch videotapes of previous matches, just like a football coach would with his team.''
By playing practice matches with her father, she says she can simulate competition and gauge how she's doing. ``Women have only been in this sport a couple of decades, which really isn't very long to be able to produce the amount of top-notch players the men have.''
At the moment, the women's tour is small enough to feel like a sorority, a clubbiness that Mason Parker sees as an asset. ``You won't find any other group of women professional athletes who present the type of appearance and the overall camaraderie,'' she says. ``I think that's maybe because it hasn't become like tennis, where everyone is kept so separate from one another because there's so much money involved.''
The top female billiards players, however, are far from paupers. Mason Parker estimates that she makes about $200,000 a year, but she must maintain a busy schedule of exhibitions, corporate appearances, and tournaments to do it.
``I'd like to be able to make a living without traveling quite as much as I do now,'' she says. ``Now I'm on the road two weeks out of every month.''
Although she longs for the day when women's billiards hits it big, she relishes the growing public spotlight and adulation. ``You get respect from many different people,'' she says, eagerly sharing a favorite compliment from a fan who said, ``You play like a concert violinist.''