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Story by Steven Tallas; photos by Roberto Vigo
A game that was once categorized as a 1970’s arcade game is now making itself known to be a world-wide adrenaline pumping sport. Approaching its 50th tournament anniversary, the once perplexed air-hockey game is now rising above many other locally interested sports. This underground international sport has surpassed its dwelling game rooms and bars to a more fantastic event that Phil Arnold, United States Air Hockey Association (USAA) founder and president describes as something similar to “a boxing match,” yet, as critical as “a chess game.”
Establishing itself out of the University of Houston, Arnold made this game publically known as he brought people together to play and tour with him. They all decided to develop rules, strategies, backhands, and forehands, just like racket-ball and tennis. Then during 1978, the first national tournament was held in Houston Texas in which Jesse Dowdy of Philadelphia became the first player to ever claim the title. Years later, this sport is now more widely known, and holds more aggression and passion than ever before.
On August 7th, 2011, the air-hockey tournament, currently known as USAA, took place at Standing Room Only (SRO) Sports Bar and Restaurant, 444 North West Mall in Houston Texas. This 3 day, 72 hour event, quickly became the talk as players from all over the world came to compete in this tournament. Channel 11 news, Channel 13 news, Channel 2 news, and many other local media stations broadcasted this event as it began. What made this event all-the-more noticeable was that, for the first time, this tournament reached 100 people signed up to participate. Not only that, but Danny Hynes, number one player in the world, was set to defend his 9 time World Title and seek his 10th victory.
Equally important and all-the-more crucial to understand, this tournament didn’t mean just a win to Danny Hynes, but this meant the opening of his 12 years of practice and his goal of beating the great all-time winners, Tim Wiseman who has won 10 titles, and Jesse Dowdy who has won 11 consecutive titles, which now fall into arms reach of him.
Day 1 of the event was double player games. Meaning, two teams went up against each other. Each time a player got scored on, their partner would play on the table while the original player sat out. Michael Rosen, commissioner of major league air-hockey joked, “You can tell a lot about people by the way they play. You can tell if they have a killer instinct, if they are very humble of themselves, if they’re too into themselves. That’s why we tell people that it’s a great dating game.”
For many of the teams, the game came a little harder than what was expected, but for some teams, victory came easy. “Matrix Revolution”– Davis Huynh (San Francisco, CA) and Anthony Marino (Houston, TX) made it into the top three placements for the winning group of the tournament, but fell short behind “No Limit Soldiers”– Danny Hynes (Houston, TX) and Ehab Shoukry (Houston, TX) who came in second and “Hyzernauts”– Billy Stubbs (Chicago, IL) and Tim Weissman (Houston, TX) who came in first.
The 2nd day consisted of single round games. This means that whoever got to 7 points first wins the game. A set, in air-hockey terms, consisted of best 4 out of 7 games. In a tournament, a set equals a match. This day held more yells and sweat than the day before. Describing the puck, player, Tad Gibson explains, “A camera that’s running 60 frames per second can’t capture the puck. It’s really, really fast.”
But, despite the speed and intensity of the puck, Ehab Shoukry, who almost equals up to Hynes ranking, had only one goal in mind going into this competition and that was to “overcome Danny.” Hynes and Shoukry have been 1 and 2 in the world and have been to finals 5 times together. Hynes explains that he and Hynes know each other’s game and tendencies so that just makes this day a lot more competitive.
Linking into the third day were finals. At this time most of the players have already found their tournament ranking. However, the rivalry between Shoukry and Hynes was still in the air.
Hynes explains, “There’s guys that can beat me at this tournament and I love it. I want them to because it’s going to make me better.”
This match has become more of a fan favorite destined to happen as both players beat every player that stood in between them. In the end it was Shoukry and Hynes facing off against each other as many stood around and watched. This main-event match-up was made of nothing but speed and velocity. This match made an impact on air-hockey and Houston as both hometown players came centimeters away from scoring. Finally, the last puck shot went to Hynes which won the match.
The award ceremony afterwards awarded Billy Stubbs (Chicago, IL) for falling into third place, Ehab Shoukry (Houston, TX) for taking second place, and Danny Hynes (Houston, TX) for his accomplishment on defeating his title 10 times.
Hynes explains, “I don’t know how I did it to be quiet honest. You hit the puck as hard as you can and just pray it goes in because he defends so well. I don’t think I got one straight shot on him. I couldn’t ask for a better friend or a better competitor.”
There hasn’t been much information provided for the next event; however, Hynes is already ready to take on the next competition.
“The next round I want to bring the same passion and just do my best. If I do my best and win another one that’ll be great, if I don’t then I’m still pleased and honored that I’ve done what I’ve already done.”

News video of Tournament http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGrWkAwe_YE

Wikipedia info on Air Hockey http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_hockey

Air Hockey, Danny Hynes, Ehab Shoukry, International Air Hockey Tournament, ABC13com, Steven Tallas


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