There’s a fine line between keeping league members happy and creating a competitive scoring condition that can stand up against some of the Capital Region’s best shooters.
Hometown Lanes proprietor Steve Smith thinks he has found the right mix, and the growth of his Mechanicville City league backs him up.
Smith took over Hometown Lanes, formerly called Bowlero, 10 years ago. The Mechanicville City league, once a powerhouse, had gone into hiatus.
“We didn’t have that league the first year I took over,” said the 52-year-old Smith, a Binghamton native. “Some of the guys thought it would be a good idea to start the league up again. We started out the first season with only six teams. Then, we went to eight. Then, we shot up to 10 teams. Now, we’re up to 16 four-man teams. We actually had 18 teams just before the season started, but at the last minute, a couple of teams dropped out. We had some guys on a waiting list, but they already made alternate plans, so we had to go with 16. We’ll have 18 teams next year. We’ve already made all the arrangements.”
Smith said tinkering with the league format helped its growth.
“It was a draft league, originally,” he said. “But we couldn’t get it to grow to more than 10 teams, no matter what we did. One year, we went to an average limit, and it jumped to 16 teams the following year.”
Smith said the maximum team average is in the low 860s, but averages have skyrocketed so high that it will probably increase to 868 for next season.
“The 860 number isn’t really that high. If you get four guys at 220, that’s 880 right there. But that’s one of the things that really helped this league. The averages aren’t too high. The numbers we’re talking about used to be good caps, but everybody is buying new high-tech bowling balls left and right, and they are learning how to bowl. The bowlers are better now, and the lane conditions are better because of the machines we’re using on the lanes. Everything goes into the bin when you talk about the improved scoring conditions of today. Even if you’ve got a 190 average bowler on your team, all of a sudden, he becomes a 205 bowler because of the peer pressure. The other guys on his team keep giving him pointers on how to improve, and they end up being better bowlers.
“The good thing is that when teams break up because of the average cap, bowlers end up on different teams, and it keeps everything going.”
There are 12 bowlers averaging 220 or better, led by Steve Gabriel’s 233. Other top shooters include Martin Nash Jr. (229), Darrell Coonrad (229), Dustin Paupst (229), Scott Belonga (226), Rich Funaro (225), Gary Pitt (224), Russ Hunter (224), Michael Lancaster (224), Ron Gardner (222) and Brian Moriano (221).
“There are quite a few guys at 220 or better. We voted on making a little tougher shot, but the problem was that this league followed the high school kids, who were bowling in front of us. It changed things. It actually made it a little tougher for us when the high school kids were still bowling, but now that they’re done for the season, our scores are up a little. Next year, we might make some changes, but we don’t want the scores to get too high.”
Smith, an accomplished regional pro, carries a 216 average, down from 222 a year ago. But he has a good reason. He drives back to Binghamton and runs a bowling center he opened there three days a week.
“I couldn’t get anybody to run it. Hopefully, it will be different next year,” he said.
Smith is coming off one of his best seasons. He broke the Troy Bowling Association record for high triple when he fired an 886 triple during the TBA City Tournament last May at Green Island Lanes. He shot games of 299, 298 and 289.
“The guys still talk about it. It was just one of those things,” said Smith. “Some nights, you hit the pocket, and you shoot 650. That night, I hit the pocket, and I carried.”
The unusual thing about Smith’s record performance was that he used a 14-pound ball.
“I had real bad tendinitis three years ago, and I had surgery on my elbow,” he said. “Since I had the surgery, I took one year off, and I came back with a 14-pound ball. I drilled a 15-pound ball, but I couldn’t throw it, so I’m stuck with a 14-pounder. There are times I can go with a 15-pound ball, but not all the time.”
Smith, who calls himself a down-and-in shooter, has roughly 35 perfect games and more than 40 800 triples on his resume. He said the highlight of his bowling career was winning the New York state all-events title in 1986.
“That gave me a free spot into the [USBC] Masters, and I finished seventh when it was held at Niagara Falls. That was really nice making the cut and going that far,” he said.
“I’ve done some stuff here and there. I bowled in the U.S. Open three times, and I bowled in the Masters three or four times. My whole life has been spent in bowling. I was chasing pins when I was 15.”
FEDDEN BREAKS THROUGH
Albany’s Chris Fedden captured the PBA East Region Keith Reynolds Memorial Senior Open over the weekend at Paramount Lanes in Elmira Heights.
Fedden, who had a 7-2 record in match play, defeated Bob Kavanaugh of Clifton Park, 257-255, in the championship game. Fedden earned $1,500, while Kavanaugh pocketed $800.
Karl Wolf of Saratoga Springs ($500) and Bill Neumann of Rensselaer ($400) also cashed among a heavy Capital Region contingent that also included Andy Smith of Colonie, Bob Pearsall of Saratoga Springs, Paul Dumas of Rensselaer, Mike Brower of Amsterdam, Len Reyngoudt of Catskill and Tom Yadanza of Saratoga Springs.
The seventh annual Joe Donato Scratch Singles Tournament held its finals over the weekend at Sportsman’s Bowl, and although entrires were down, it was another successful event.
Almost 300 bowlers entered the tournament, and 60 earned a spot in the three-game semifinals. Another 22 earned a spot in the match-play finals.
Veteran regional pro Ray Cyr of New Hartford, who was the runner-up the year before, defeated Billy Webb of Enfield, Conn., in the championship game. Webb is a regular in Huck Finn tournaments.
Too bad there was no local bowler in the championship game, but Ron Unser did make the round of four.
That fact eventually caused some problems with the taping of the Huck Finn doubles tournament for the “Capital Region Bowling Show,” later that night, as Unser and partner Nunzi Manuli never made it to the taping. Huck Finn tournament officials ended up having only three doubles teams instead of four for the show.
STRIKES & SPARES
— The 14th annual Blizzard Bowl continues Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Boulevard Bowl. Entry fee for the four-person team event is $60 per team. There are also optional singles ($5 per person) and doubles ($10 per team) events, as well as raffles and giveaways. A continental breakfast buffet is included a half-hour before bowling. Top prize for the team event is $2,000. Call 374-4171 for more information.
— The final regular-season Huck Finn qualifiers will be held Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m. at Playdium and Sunday at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at Uncle Sam Lanes in Troy. Call Jeff Segel at 439-7628 for reservations.
— Burnt Hills Lanes will host the 76th annual Schenectady USBC Bowling Association Championship Tournament May 3 through May 17. Entry fee for the four-person team event is $80. The doubles fee is $40 per team, and the singles entry fee is $20. All-events will cost $5. Handicap will be 90 percent of 240. Top prize for the handicap team event will be $1,200, based on 120 entries. Contact tournament directors Steve Renzi (299-2942) or Lloyd Denny (355-5632) for more information.
— There is still time to enter the Schenectady Scotia USBC Women’s Bowling Association City Tournament, to be held at Burnt Hills Lanes the last week in April for the team event and the first week in May for doubles and singles. There are openings for every squad except Wednesday, May 6, for the doubles and singles. League secretaries have entry forms. Contact Anne Torak at 356-3281 for more information. Winners are invited to the annual awards dinner May 28 at the Elks Lodge on Curry Road in Rotterdam.
— The 500 Club will hold its singles tournament April 4 at Towne Bowling Academy. Entries close Saturday. Call Marie Moorhead at 399-3063 for more information.
— The second annual Monday Majors Showdown will hold its first round between Sportsman’s Major and the Schenectady League April 19 at Towne Bowling Academy at 3:30. Mike Guidarelli, Mike Smith, Mark Hilton and Johnnie Leone will bowl for Sportsman’s Major, while Tony Palumbo, Dave McLear, Cliff Ruth and Dennis Booth will compete for the Schenectady League. The winner of that match takes on the City League (Joe Vanderlinden, John Mango, Craig Taylor and Marty Capullo Jr.) April 29 at either Sportsman’s or Rolling Greens, depending on which team wins the opening round.
— Teams and sponsors are still needed for the Team Build Bowl-Athon April 5 at Sportsman’s Bowl. Money raised helps build Habitat homes. Bowling will be from 1-3 p.m. Call 395-3412 or visit the Web at www.hfhscny.org for more information.
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