Crowd plays billiards for veterans' military museum

More than 200 residents from the Lake Norman area braved cold and rainy weather Tuesday night to support their local veterans at a fundraiser for a living military museum in Mooresville.

The Breakin' Balls Veterans/Celebrities 8-Ball Shootout, hosted by 150 n Out Billiards & Darts on East Plaza Drive in Mooresville, raised money to buy larger property for the Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum at Richard's Coffee Shop.

For $20, participants matched their pool skills against celebrities, and then they posed for pictures and received an autographed ball. They lined up along the bar top surrounding the 18 billiard tables, pool sticks in hand, anxious to play against NASCAR driver Candace Muzny, drag racer Doug Herbert and two-time Busch series champion Randy LaJoie.

Allison Fisher, five-time champion of the nine-ball U.S. Open of Women's Professional Billiards, was among the celebrities, although no competitor lasted long against her.

Joe Sparacio, chairperson of events for Welcome Home Veterans, spearheaded the event. Those who attended threw darts for a chance to win one of 77 prizes, ranging in value from $5 to $800. Prizes included a flat-screen TV donated by the retail chain hhgregg, a collector's knife set from Aisle Pawn Shop and gift cards from Smoothie King.

Bob Toth, who opened 150 n Out Billiards & Darts two years ago, said he was excited to work with Welcome Home Veterans to host the fundraising event. "I have a lot of relatives who are veterans," Toth said. "They laid down the ultimate sacrifice so that I can do this kind of thing."

Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum at Richard's Coffee Shop started out in a small coffee shop on North Main Street owned by Vietnam veteran Richard Warren. When veterans walked into his business, Warren would cup their faces in his hands and thank them for their sacrifice and years of service. It soon became a gathering place for veterans, a safe area to share stories and provide emotional support.

Veterans donated and loaned historical artifacts documenting the wars, and the shop became a living museum, representing artifacts and the men and women who were alive to share them. After his death in 2009, they took up Warren's cause and continued the legacy. The original coffee shop closed after his death, but Welcome Home Veterans opened a new coffee shop and living museum on South Main Street in Mooresville.

Many veterans consider the shop therapeutic. "I can come down here and talk to other veterans who have been in the same combat situations as I've been - who can relate to what I've been through," said Dennis Duchene, who helped organize the event Tuesday night.

Said Lee Gardner, "It's better than a hospital."

Having joined forces with the UNC Charlotte Veterans Club, the current, 1,500-square-foot space is not enough for the shop's growing clientele. In conjunction with other fundraising efforts, John Hedley, president of Welcome Home Veterans, hopes the event at 150 n Out will help raise needed funds to buy a 5,000-square-foot commercial property across from the original shop on North Main Street.

Hedley has said the group has a contract to buy the property from Aquesta Bank for $390,000. He said the campaign also would pay for $40,000 to $60,000 in repairs to the roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The group has raised about half the amount.