WALLINGFORD — The Play for Shay annual pool tournament at Yale Billiards raised over $5,000 for diabetes research in memory of Shaylin Massella, an employee who died of type 1 diabetes at the age of 22.
“She just fit right in … she was a ball of energy and just so fun, always joking,” said Robert Hilton, who owns the North Plains Industrial Road pool hall with his wife, Chrissy Hilton.
The tournament has raised over $35,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since Massella’s death in 2014. The fundraiser sells T-shirts, sponsorships and holds a raffle for donated prizes. Half of the $20 entry fee also goes toward the foundation, with the remainder serving as an award for the tournament winner.
Hilton said the tournament has remained so important to the staff and players because of the impact it’s had on Massella’s family and friends, who continue to visit every year.
Her mother, Alonna Massella, said she is overwhelmed every year by the generosity of the Hilton family and the community around the pool hall, especially this year given the lengths they went through to make the event safe enough to still hold.
“They were just determined to have it done,” she said.
From the moment Shaylin Massella began working at Yale Billiards, she was telling her mom how much she loved the community she joined there and through speaking with the tournament’s players over the years, Alonna Massella discovered her daughter’s love for 9-ball. In her memory, the 27 teams participating advance through rounds of 9-ball.Two-day tournament
Rather than have the tournament held on one day, as usual, it was spread out in two four-hour blocks on Saturday and Sunday to reduce how many participants were indoors. Sign-ups were also limited to 25 for each day to remain under capacity limits during the pandemic, reducing the number of players down from around 100 last year.
Masks and social distancing were required. Those signing up for the raffle, leaving donations or purchasing shirts were encouraged to come in during the week before the tournament, and the raffle awarding was done virtually to prevent crowds.
Even with the nervousness many have around the virus, Chrissy Hilton said that supporting diabetes research and those diagnosed with the disease is a personal cause to many of those competing in the tournament. Both she and her father have type 1 diabetes, and in speaking with the players she’s found that nearly everyone has a story of someone in their life being diagnosed with the condition as well.
“I think diabetes is a growing epidemic,” she said. She also noted that it suppresses the immune system, making the tens of millions of Americans diagnosed with the disease vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
Having known Massella when she worked there, Wallingford resident Darryl Helm said he and his tournament partner, Kim Singleton, couldn’t miss the competition. Singleton’s daughter has been diagnosed with diabetes as well, giving them another personal connection.
“Shay was a friend of my daughter. She was very special to a lot of us … she would light up the room,” Helm said.
Though love of the sport brought all the players there, Helm said it’s the community built around Yale Billiards that made the tournament so important to them.
“It’s a place to hang out with family, because once you become a part of this place you become a part of the family,” he said.