APA’s success over the past 40 years is well-documented, and the two men responsible for its creation, Terry Bell and Larry Hubbart, have been immortalized for that success by their inclusion in the Billiard Hall of Fame. But, there are two other individuals who deserve a great deal of credit for APA’s prosperity as well, and yet, their story has never really been told.
They are the First Ladies of APA.
A Night on the Town
Nancy Schmidt reluctantly joined a girlfriend for a night on the town that January night in 1974, when the duo ran into a small group of poolplayers, fresh off a trip to Florida.
The group included, amongst others, a young up-and-coming player named Mike Sigel, and an established road player who was mentoring him named Larry Hubbart. Nancy’s friend seemed to hit it off with one of the other guys in the group, so Nancy hesitantly asked Larry if he wanted to dance.
While dancing, the two quickly discovered their birthdays fell just one day apart and the coincidence helped ease them into further conversation.
A few days later, Larry would ask Nancy out on a date, to which she agreed. The two continued to hit it off, but Larry’s “career” as a professional poolplayer, left Nancy, a divorced mother of two, unimpressed.
She was also concerned with how accepting her parents might be of Larry. In fact, she didn’t let her father meet him for several months.
Finally, she broached the subject of an introduction of the man she was dating to her father. He replied, “Does he drink and smoke?” Nancy quickly reminded her dad that he himself was both a drinker and smoker.
Despite her parent’s initial reservations, and her own skepticism about the stability of a pro pool career, Larry and Nancy became an item, and were eventually married.
Just Making a Connection
When Terry Bell boarded a flight in 1977, cue stick in hand, he eagerly grabbed a spot next to “the pretty lady with an open seat” beside her. Little did he know, in that momentary decision, that one day, that pretty lady would become his wife. That woman’s name was Olendia Fletcher.
Olendia was traveling with her two children to visit a friend, and Terry was making a connecting flight to a separate destination. The kids were apprehensive about what was in the man’s case. So when Terry struck up a conversation, mom was happy to engage with the stranger to learn more about the mysterious case so as to put her kids’ minds at ease.
The two enjoyed a pleasant conversation, but soon enough, the roughly 30-minute flight landed, and they were off, headed in different directions in the world. But before they said their final goodbyes, Terry learned that Olendia was an auditor for the Central Bank of Alabama in Decatur.
He told her he’d stop in and visit someday.
Three months later, Terry, who’d spent the better part of the past decade on the road playing pool, followed through on his promise when he passed through Alabama.
During his impromptu visit, Olendia agreed to a date and the two started seeing each other. Eventually, however, Olendia would break things off with Terry, citing his life on the road as a poolplayer.
Before he left town, Terry told Olendia that if she ever needed him, she could contact his friend, cue maker Bob Meucci, and that he’d know how to track him down.
Wouldn’t you know it, eventually she would do just that. One night while playing Scrabble at the Rochester, N.Y., home of friends, Larry and Nancy Hubbart, the phone rang. It was Olendia.
She asked Terry to return to Huntsville to work for her remodeling a home she’d purchased. Terry agreed. After several months, and a lot of work, Olendia, having put Terry’s work ethic to the test so to speak, she decided to give him another chance.
“I intentionally took a lot of time because I didn’t want the job to be over,” Terry chuckled looking back on their early years together.
In March 1979, she married the poolplayer that she had fallen in love with during the remodeling phase.
See You in St. Louie
Little could either couple have known that the chance encounters that brought them together would eventually prove pivotal in, what would eventually become, the American Poolplayers Association (APA).
As married men with children, both Terry and Larry realized their road warrior lifestyles would need to be adapted.
“She changed me. I would have stayed on the road, but that’s a bad situation long-term. Meeting Olendia completely changed me. I knew I needed something more solid in my life. A relationship makes a man more responsible, gives him more drive, more energy,” said Bell.
In May of 1979, Terry and Larry would travel to St. Louis, Mo., to meet with representatives of Anheuser-Busch to discuss a Pool League concept that they had been working on for a few years while on the road. Much to their surprise, the brewery was not only interested, but they wanted to get started on the project immediately.
That would mean Terry and Larry would have to relocate to the St. Louis area so they could work with the folks at Anheuser-Busch on the launch of APA.
That also meant convincing their wives to uproot their lives, and the lives of their children, to relocate to a city neither had ever really known. As the old saying goes, “happy wife, happy life.”
It would be each lady’s first contribution to APA’s success.
Nancy would accompany Larry to St. Louis.
Olendia though, who was the new Assistant Controller for the bank, did not immediately relocate to St Louis. She would, however, encourage her newlywed husband to pursue his dream in St. Louis, and assured him that eventually, she would join him. After a year of a long-distance marriage, and several back and forth trips between Huntsville and St. Louis, Olendia would join the group in their new hometown as Controller for a bank in St. Louis.
While the company had the support of Anheuser-Busch, launching this new company was no easy feat – it rarely is when you’re blazing new trails for a business with no blueprint.
Both Olendia and Nancy consistently provided the reassurance and support their husbands needed to let them know better days were ahead.
“Being there, being supportive, is what we needed to be successful in those early days,” said Terry.
The women’s support didn’t stop at just the emotional level either.
Keeping a Roof over Their Heads and Food on the Table
Olendia and Nancy’s jobs provided the financial support for each of their households as well. While Terry and Larry were able to supplement Anheuser-Busch’s financial support with their pool tournament winnings to help fund the business, the lady’s incomes went towards putting a roof over the family’s heads, and food on their tables.
While more and more women had steadily been entering the workforce for years, it was fairly uncommon for a working mother to be the primary provider for her family in the late 70s and early 80s.
So, as the men were charting a path to success with the startup of APA, the women were proving themselves trailblazers in their own right.
Yet another vital contribution to APA in its early days.
As APA grew more and more successful, it also quickly outgrew the limited workforce of just Terry and Larry. So, in the mid-80’s, the ladies would leave the careers they’d been building, while putting bread on the table, to come to work at APA, and to help transform it from a pool league into a burgeoning, well-maintained business.
For Nancy, that would mean leaving the food company, Carnation, in favor of an undefined role that would ultimately encompass many operational aspects of the organization’s operations.
Olendia would leave the banking industry to come and manage APA finances.
As a way to try and find some separation in their lives between work and home, Nancy often worked with Terry, while Olendia often dealt with matters that included Larry’s portion of the business responsibilities.
Eventually, APA’s success began to skyrocket, and more staff were brought on board.
By the mid-90s, APA had grown into a successful franchise company employing dozens of staff and tending to hundreds of franchise owners. In 1996, Terry and Larry would name Renee Lyle as the company’s President and the two would take a step back from day-to-day operations. They would instead oversee the company’s success as members of the Board of Directors.
Nancy and Olendia, however, would remain highly involved. One of Nancy’s primary areas of focus was the company’s health insurance program, something APA felt strongly about providing to their employees, despite the ever-growing cost of health insurance.
Olendia served as the organization’s Chief Financial Officer, and to this day, she remains heavily involved in the organization’s finances. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw APA Leagues shut down across the globe, her financial preparedness and preparation, years in the making, allowed the organization to avoid laying off ANY of its 60+ corporate staff – of course allowing those staff members to keep a roof over their heads and food on their own tables.
While Terry and Larry have rightly enjoyed much of APA’s public success, there’s no denying that the support of both Olendia Bell and Nancy Hubbart not only allowed for APA to sustain itself in the early days, but their contributions can still be felt by the organization today.
And for those contributions, I believe they should forever be recognized as the First Ladies of APA.