SUNBURY - More than 700 pool players, plus their spouses and significant others in some cases, descended upon the Sunbury Ice Rink Friday for the three-day Fraternal Order of Eagles state billiards tournament, an event which organizers believe will pump much money into Susquehanna Valley hotels, restaurants and shopping venues.

Eighty-nine eight-person teams representing Eagles lodges from as close as Mount Carmel, Milton and the host city, and from as far away as Fairless Hills, Donora and Ambridge, were registered as of Friday afternoon to compete in the eight-ball tournament, which was slated to start at 8 p.m. and continue today and Sunday.

Several county and city officials were set to welcome the competitors with an opening ceremony which included a performance by the Shikellamy High School Marching Braves.

This is the second consecutive year the Sunbury Lodge has hosted the event, but there is a little more pressure involved this year, because the lodge didn't know it would host the event until about a week ago.

"I'm kind of queasy and nervous about how it goes tonight," said Eric Long, a Sunbury lodge trustee who was the point man for the last-minute operation after Littlestown, the original venue for this year's tournament, had a scheduling conflict. The state Eagles headquarters, faced with a crisis and pleased with how Sunbury handled the event last year, took Sunbury up on its offer to host the tournament again.

That made for some last-minute scrambling by local officials, as well as canceling hotel reservations in the Gettysburg area and making new ones in this area by many of the visitors.

"Other sites don't do this (an opening ceremony) and I want it to come off nice," Long said.

"Last year we had about 2,000 people here for the weekend, including players and their spouses," Long said. "We're planning for about the same amount this year. Right now we're looking at about 1,500."

Long said he was told at least 80 area hotel rooms had been booked by players so far. The Eagles lodge also made plans to operate shuttle buses between area hotels and the site.

Last year's tournament came about because one of the Sunbury lodge's players had formerly worked at the ice rink and said it would be a great place to host the event, according to Long.

"We thought it was an awesome suggestion and we took it to the city," Long said. "We were able to lease the building for the weekend and we got great support from (Sunbury Mayor) Dave Persing and the city council, especially Jim Eister."

A company from Fredericksburg, Md., delivered 20 tables for set-up and use at the tournament, which is a double-elimination event, with the winning team set to win about $2,500.

"All the prize money comes from teams' registration fees," Long said.

Blind seeding was done to set up the tournament schedule, and an added feature this year is that there will be smaller second-chance tournaments for teams that are eliminated to keep their shooters busy all weekend.

"We have three tables at our lodge that can be used for the second-chance tournaments," Long said. "We'll probably have one Saturday for the teams that go 0-2, and one on Sunday for the teams that are eliminated on Saturday."

Long said there is a good range of skill levels of the participating players.

"We have some guys here who are next to professionals," he said. "And we also have the average Joes who play in their local bar leagues."

The championship match is tentatively scheduled for Sunday at 4:30.