Intramural pool champion nationally known

BY ETHAN SEBERT | APRIL 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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What began as a family pastime is now a money making hobby.

Freshman Ryan Behnke has a powerful connection with the game of pool. The native of Farley, Iowa, developed the strong connection largely through his father, Jerry Behnke, who began playing pool as a diversion from the hard work he did on his family’s dairy farm.

His four boys inherited his strong passion for the game, starting with his oldest, Adam.

“Adam got interested and as soon as he did, all the other boys did, too,” Jerry Behnke said.

Ryan Behnke, the second oldest of the Behnke boys, couldn’t help but develop an affection for the game after watching his father and brother play while he was growing up.

That affection has turned into a prosperous venture. He isn’t exactly sure how many wins he has in his short pool career, but said he believes it is somewhere between 40 and 50.

More significantly, he has won around $30,000 playing pool all over the country, from Wisconsin to Las Vegas.

Needless to say, the mechanical-engineering major was more than qualified when his high-school friend, freshman Josh Foxen, asked him to be his partner for the intramural Doubles Pool Tournament, and the two won the title handily.

“I always knew he was really good in high school,” Foxen said. “He played me one-handed one time and beat me.”

Unfortunately for Foxen, Behnke also signed up for the Singles Pool Tournament, where the two met in the second round. Foxen, like the other 18 competitors, couldn’t stop Ryan Behnke as he cruised through the tournament, winning five matches without losing a single game en route to the championship.

The intramural competition gave Behnke a special opportunity to showcase his skills, which doesn’t happen as often as it used to since he started college.

“Now, I never play,” Behnke said. “Living at home, I used to play about every other weekend.”

Jerry Behnke said he has always encouraged his kids to play pool, but he has never pressured them. He said he sees the game as a great activity they can do as a family, and the success is just a bonus.

“It’s something we say we’ll always do together,” he said. “It’s always kept us real close.”

All of the Behnke boys have competed in league, state, and national tournaments — often as a team, as well as individually. The family makes a yearly trip to Las Vegas to compete in the national tournament, where Ryan Behnke finished 13th in 2005 and 2007 and qualified for the U.S. Open.

The Behnke family also helped put together some instructional videos and own a pool hall, called the Dakota Cue Club in Sioux Falls, S.D.

But Jerry Behnke has always encouraged his sons not to try to make a living out of playing pool.

Adam Behnke, who now manages the Dakota Cue Club, saw what that was like when he spent two years traveling with Shane Van Boening, who is the second-ranked player in the world, according to AZBilliards.com.

“The money just really isn’t there,” Adam Behnke said.

Ryan Behnke agreed with his dad and brother, and he views pool as more of a hobby.

“Just a hobby to make a little money on the weekend,” Ryan Behnke said.

Regardless of how the Behnke boys see the game, there is no denying their skills. Both Adam and Ryan Behnke are on a select list known as Elite Masters. The group is composed of the best players in the state and has only 26 members.

But even with his name on that list, Ryan Behnke seeks to improve his craft.

“He just loves the game and does really well at it,” Jerry Behnke said.

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