Steve Meier has spent countless hours at the pool table. Through the years, the Hutchinson man has left his mark on the game regionally and statewide, racking up accolades and trophies along the way. His most recent win, however, put him in a new category: world champion.
During Memorial Day weekend, Meier traveled to Las Vegas and competed in the Valley National 8-Ball League Association Pool World Championship and won the Men’s Classic 8-Ball Singles Tournament. It was the culmination of nearly 25 years worth of trips to Vegas and the first time he has ever topped the tournament field.
“Maybe I’ll just retire on top — go out like Peyton Manning or something,” Meier said with a laugh.
Meier moved to Hutchinson in sixth grade and has been a staple at pool halls in the region since his teenage years.
“Everything’s changed society-wise, because now everyone’s doing PlayStation or they’re doing video games or (stuff) like that,” Meier said. “Back in the day it was video arcades, it was pinball, it was pool, it was foosball. It was very accessible, you could go almost anywhere and find it.”
It was during these early days where Meier’s fire to compete was lit, and it still burns strong today.
“You’d always play for a $1 or $2 a game or whatever the deal was,” he said. “You’d play for a drink, and I just didn’t like losing. I just got better and better and better.”
There are four levels at the amateur level, and Meier has reached the highest: masters. He competes in the Hutchinson/Glencoe pool league and the Willmar league with a couple of his friends, carpooling a couple nights a week to different places. He is also planning to compete in Coon Rapids this summer.
Meier has won three state singles championships and finished in the top four at the masters state tournament six or seven times in the past 10 years. Those credentials have established him as one of the top amateur players in the state.
In about 25 of the past 30 years, he and friends have competed as a five-man team at the world championships in Las Vegas. The competition brings together hundreds of players and teams from around the world for a tournament that spans nearly five days for the singles competitions and five days for the team competition.
The best Meier and his teammates have done was a third-place finish in the open division in 2009.
In those 25 years in Vegas, Meier has only competed in the singles tournaments five or six times. It adds mental fatigue before the team competition, another round of entry fees and potentially doubles the length of the trip to as many as 10 days.
“That’s a long stretch to be out there,” he said. “That’s one reason why I’ve never done it consistently until last year. I decided, ‘Ya know, I’m still competing at a pretty good level, why don’t I try this division and see what happens?’”
At 55, Meier was eligible to compete in the classic singles division for competitors age 50-60. He made it all the way to championship, finishing as runner-up.
“I lost it last year and said, ‘Well, that was my run,’” Meier said. “And by virtue of a couple teammates who wanted to play in the singles this year, I said, ‘Alright, I’ll do it one more year.’ And as luck would have it, I had the best year ever.”
Meier played in both the 8-Ball and 9-Ball Classic Singles tournaments and ripped through both fields. Meier reached the 9-Ball semifinals before losing a tight battle to finish third in the 52-player field. The man who beat him went on to win the championship.
The hot streak carried over to the 8-Ball tournament against a field of more than 80 players. Meier reached the semifinals again before losing, but followed with a win to reach the championship in the double-elimination tournament. He then reeled off back-to-back victories to defeat his Australian opponent and claim the title.
“That was a treat,” he said. “An unexpected treat.”
Meier’s opponent in the final was the same player who defeated him in the 9-Ball tournament.
“I heard after the fact that he was one of the more decorated players from that area down there,” Meier said. “He was very good, and I just happened to find a way.”
Kevin Deopere, one of Meier’s teammates and a Hutchinson resident, also had a strong run in the 8-Ball tournament, finishing fourth overall.
Though he joked about retiring, Meier has no plans to step away from the game he loves.
“What motivates me now? Probably just staying on top, not letting these younger guys have their say,” he said. “It’s funny how often through the years now I’ll run into some people and they’ll say, ‘Remember, I beat you like 12 years ago?’ And I’ll have no idea. It’s funny … but that’s the thing. People measure themselves against you. And if I want to stay at the top, that’s motivation enough to try to maintain that level of skill and consistency.”