The room, which had been lively with conversation minutes before, was quiet except for one voice. The only sounds were the soft "thunks" as people dabbed ink spots on paper cards - and the man calling numbers: " B-4 ... I-16... O- 70..."
It was bingo night at the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, and the room was filled with people, each holding their breath as they prayed for the right number to fall so they could yell "BINGO!" and win the $300 jackpot.
Every Tuesday, people from all walks of life, men and women, ages 10 years old to well above 90 - gather for bingo at the Legion post. For less than $10, you can get cards for all regular games and a bottle of ink to mark those cards - not a bad price for a night of fun with a chance to win cash.
You can buy extra cards too - some experienced players cover half the table with cards hoping to increase chances of winning - and there are early bird games, too.
Some games offer half the "take" for the game - half of money collected for game cards goes to the winner, the other half goes to the Legion. Other game prizes are $50, $75, or - for the jackpot - $300.
While winning cash is a big deal to the players, the real winners in the weekly American Legion bingo games are local charities.
The Dexter Allen post supports a variety of causes and organizations, said Terry Preslar, post adjutant and bingo caller. Money from the weekly bingo night goes to Georgia veteran's hospitals, Joseph's Home for Boys, Boy and Girl Scouts, local nursing homes and more, he said.
The post provides funding for local veteran's activities, including Memorial Day and Veteran's Day programs at the Emma Kelly Theater; placing 3,000 flags on veteran's graves on Memorial Day; and helping fund transportation for veterans to the hospitals, he said.
And, contributions are made to the American Red Cross on a regular basis, Preslar said.
It doesn't end there. During holidays, the bingo players bring in food items for the Statesboro Food Bank. And the Legion Ladies Auxiliary gathers the makings of a holiday meal and gives the package to local needy families. Flags are placed at cemeteries; citizenship awards are presented to local students and the schools' ROTC programs benefit from the American Legion Post 90 bingo income as well, he said.
Fun for all ages
The reason the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 began holding bingo nights over 20 years ago was as a fund raiser, but it has become a "fun" raiser as well. David Clenny has been coming from Claxton every week for nine years to play bingo - and often hangs around afterward to help Legion members clean up.
"When I lived up north, me and my sisters always played bingo," he said. He has won a few times over the years, but "not very often." The real win is having fun, he said.
But when the number called is the very one that completes your card, especially when it is the jackpot game, it's a sweet experience, said Mandy Heath, who has won the jackpot twice, as well as other prizes, since she started playing in December.
As she stared at her cards during a March 2 game, Preslar called the number she needed. "Bingo!" she cried as she stamped ink onto that number. Smiling, she said "It pays to give half your winnings to God."
Playing bingo has not only been lucrative for her, "It's fun," she said. "My two cousins play with us, and it's neat just sitting here and talking to everybody. This is my kind of outing."
Many women playing one recent Tuesday night claimed bingo is the ultimate "girls' night out." And it's good clean family fun, judging by the number of parents with children at the event.
Barbara S. Deal has been playing since July and has won a few times herself.
"I didn't think it would be so much fun," she said. "But after the first time, said 'Oh, Lord, we're coming back!'"
Deal won three weeks in a row once - which would make anyone go back for another chance. But she is one of the women who play bingo because it's fun - "our once-a-wee girls' night out," she said.
Heath said there is " always a crowd." Preslar said since they banned smoking, the attendance has increased and now the crowd demands two rooms - a PA system is used so players in the other room can hear the numbers called.
Legion members walk around and sell extra cards - it's easy to fork over a dollar or two to increase your chances, and Heath said some long-time players are skilled at scanning multiple cards during each game.
During intermission the snack bar is busy and everyone enjoys visiting with one another - until it comes time to play. During regular games, there may be a smattering of chatter between players, but when the jackpot game rolls around, things get quiet.
Tables are covered end to end with game cards - many players purchase several extras. And as Preslar calls out the numbers, it seems everyone in the room is holding a collective breath, with everyone hoping the next number called is the one they need.
And then it comes - the moment that keeps players returning an enables the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 to give away between $40 and $50 thousand a year - someone yells "BINGO!" and wins $300.
Next time, it could be you.
The American Legion Post 90 is located on Rucker Lane, off U.S. 301 South, behind the BP station. Bingo nights are Tuesdays, and the crowd starts arriving after 7 p.m., and games begin at 7:30, Preslar said. Players must be 10 years old or older to participate.