All eyes on the black ball

Marchelino James prepares to break the rack with his awards on the table.

South African under-18 blackball champion, Marchelino James, 15, is all packed and ready to defend his title in Bloemfontein, next week.

A Grade 10 pupil at Spine Road High School, in Mitchell’s Plain, Marchelino enjoys writing rap lyrics in his spare time.

“People come here to be cool, but then I put them back into school.. I drop balls like I’m a ball legend, and every time I do it, I do it even better..” are a few lines from a piece he is working on.

The youngster not only talks the talk but he has the skills to back it up.

A member of the Hotshots Pool Club for blackball and at Thunderball Pool Club for eight-ball, he is currently ranked number one in South Africa for the under-18 blackball division.

Later this year, he will also get the opportunity to put the best pool players at the world championships back into school, when he competes in Ireland.

Marchelino said he fondly remember his first encounters with pool as a five year old. His older brother, Janimo, played for Hustlers and Marchelino would tag along with his father, Marquitte Tobias, to watch his brother play.

In 2013, he joined No Direction Pool Club and started competing.

“This one day I joined my brother and father for a practice session at Bienies Pool Shop across the road from where we live. That’s when shot I my first ball,” said Marchelino.

“I’d always watch my brother play and the sport became second nature to me. In 2014 I joined Pool Kings where coach Iekraam Meniers gave me lessons twice a week.

“He had the biggest influence on my game and was the one who taught me the basics on my positioning and shooting. And, today I play in his blackball team in the league.

“Last year, Pool Kings became defunct and I joined Supreme. Then this year I moved to Thunderball and Hotshots,” he said.

In his first year of competitive playing, he represented the Ikapa Pool Federation for eight-ball, at the SA national championships in Worcester.

The following year he traveled to Limpopo, where he won his first national singles blackball title, in the under-14 division. At the same time, he teamed up with Haashiem September, and the duo won the under-18 doubles division.

“Last year, I competed in my first under-23 blackball national championships. It was very tough and I didn’t do too well against the more experienced guys.

“But, the experience helped me a lot because I went on to become the number one ranked player in the under-18 division.

“In October, I represented South Africa for the first time. We traveled to Zimbabwe for the under-18 test series, and our team lost in the quarter final,” he said.

Marchelino said his days of being nervous leading up to a competition is a thing of the past. He said once he earned the top spot in the country, he knew that he was the best in his age group, and that boosted his confidence.

A former West End Primary School pupil, he enjoyed athletics field events and played cricket at school. But, playing pool became his sport of choice and he spends his free time freestyle rapping with his friends.

“I only recently started rapping with two of my friends. I freestyle but enjoy writing lyrics much more. We have recorded a couple songs individually and are working on something which features all three of us,” said Marchelino.

“We record in my friend’s room using some basic equipment. My favourite piece currently is called Without You.

“The lyrics come from random thoughts I have. It’s about me rapping to a girl, with my message being that without her I am nothing, but at the same time I don’t want to be kept tight,” he said.

Marchelino qualified to compete at the world championships last year when he got crowned the number player in SA. And, he will lead the under-18 team in his first international competition.

“The top five players qualify in the country qualifies for the world champs. It felt great to win the title because all my time and hard work I put in finally paid off.

“My father is really proud and always encourages me to keep going,” said Marchelino.

“My aim is to go to Ireland and return with the winner’s trophy. I’m really excited and I’m preparing myself mentally as well,” he said.