SEBRING - It's that time of year again.
The No. 1 community in the country for retirees will host the 83rd Orange Blossom Classic today at the Sebring Recreation Center.
A professional tournament sanctioned by the Florida Shuffleboard Association, the annual event is the most prestigious shuffleboard tournament in the state, and will feature some of the country's top professionals. The event starts today at 9 a.m. and runs through Saturday, and is open to amateurs, who will be matched with professionals.
Players will be competing for a $4,000 cash prize. The are separate divisions for men and women and for doubles as well. It costs $6 per person to enter, and any amateur that manages to claim the winning pot will lose his or her amateur status due to the collection of funds.
There are 36 shuffleboard courts at the recreation club, more than enough to comfortably accommodate upwards of 200 players.
In all the years the tournament has been held, no Sebring man has ever won. Ruth Tate won the female division when she was a resident of Sebring in the winter months, but she has since returned to her home in Bowling Green, Ky. Other Heartland residents have come close, however,
Sebring's Judy Holloway and Marti Noble earned some winnings in the past.
The event draws its name from the orange orchards that dot the Central Florida landscape, and has been a staple of the Heartland for almost a century.
Heading into this year's tournament, Earl Bell leads the men's division. Jim Miler is in second, and only one point separates them. Ironically, that's the same difference between them as when they entered last year's event.
On the women's side, Judy Taylor is in first with Arlene Guerrini nipping at her heels.
Winners of the 82nd Orange Blossom Classic are as follows: Gene McCullough and Jerry Everett on the men's side, and Jeannie Andrews and Judy Taylor for the women.
Shuffleboard has expanded in popularity over the last decade, as many of the Baby Boomer generation has started to retire and are drawn to the sport. Spectators at this year's event can rest assured that they'll be treated to some of the best shuffleboard Florida has to offer. Watching the matches is free of charge, and bleachers are available for spectators.
Without generous support from these sponsors, the Orange Blossom Classic would not be possible. They include, Caruso Medical Center (John R. Caruso, D.O.), Highlands Independent Bank, Highlands Regional Medical Center, Lampe & Kiefer Hearing Aid Center, Sebring Animal Hospital (Dr. Larry Jernigan), Heartland Real Estate Company, Blue Crab Restaurant, and Dell Realty Team (Pat Dell).
The Sebring Recreation Club is located at 333 Pomegrante Ave., behind the police station. For more information about the Orange Blossom Classic, contact them by phone at 385-2966.