William "Billy" Clearwater came of age in Ravenna during the closing decades of the 19th Century at a time when pool halls were a gathering place for boys and men in many small towns.
Ravenna was no exception. G.H. Simon's billiards parlor, located in the Empire Block at Main and Chestnut streets -- on the present-day site of Riddle Block No. 9 -- was among those in operation during that period. There undoubtedly were others, too, and presumably that's where Billy Clearwater learned how to shoot pool.
Wherever he picked up the game, he evidently learned it very well because the Ravenna native won the pocket billiards world championship three times, beginning in 1895 when he was 20 years old.
He won the crown for the first time in December 1895, when he played in the Men's World Pocket Billiards Championship, an international competition in Syracuse, N.Y, defeating Jerome Keogh -- who was destined to be his longtime rival. Clearwater led in the tournament from the start.
His victory took the championship away from Alfredo DeOro, a Cuban billiards player, who had held the crown for several years.
DeOro had played in Ravenna one year earlier, when he faced Clearwater in a match game at Reed's Opera House. The local favorite won the game and DeOro, according to the Ravenna Republican, "was heard to say that when he got the Ravenna boy to Syracuse, he would beat him." That didn't happen.
Clearwater played the pool championship circuit for nearly 20 years, facing Keogh, DeOro and others with mixed results.
Shortly after winning the international championship, he was challenged by his rivals to defend it in a series of matches in Pittsburgh in March 1896. He defeated Keogh, who was known as "The Boy Wonder," and then faced challenges from DeOro and others seeking the crown. "Mr. Clearwater's many friends are confident that he will still be the world's champion when those games all have been played," the Republican observed.
He went on to face DeOro the following month, defeating him, only to lose the championship in a rematch in May 1896. He regained the title two years later in a challenge to Keogh in March 1898, but lost it a month later.
Billy Clearwater remained a contender for many years, repeatedly playing in championship matches -- sometimes winning, sometimes not.
He won his third championship in March 1902, holding it for only two months.
His final bid to regain the crown came in January 1911, when he faced his old rival, DeOro, in a three-day event in Philadelphia in a match billed as a "championship continuous pool contest." He lost the match.
He remained on the billiards circuit, traveling the country and playing exhibition matches that showcased his skills at the pool table well into the 1930s. By then, he was living in Ellwood City, Pa., where he managed a pool room.
He passed on his love of the game -- and, apparently his talent at it -- to his daughter, Margaret "Babe" Clearwater, who became the women pocket billiards international champion in 1916, an honor that she -- unlike her father -- retained undefeated.
Billy Clearwater was 73 years old when he died Sept. 25, 1948, in Ellwood City. His passing, decades after he had left the community where he had learned to play pool, was noted in the Evening Record, which paid tribute to the former billiards champ.