Brian LeClair says he misses bowling on the PBA Tour, but admits to being no fan of the modern pro game.
The 47-year-old Athens native competed for nearly 25 years against the world’s best. He earned more than $560,000, and made the TV finals four times in a solid career that included more than 180 cashes in nearly 360 events. He lost to the legendary Walter Ray Williams Jr. twice in the title match by a combined three pins, and also lost to PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III twice in the TV finals.
Not bad at all.
LeClair, who now owns and operates the pro shop at Del Lanes, also won 13 PBA regional events to go along with an estimated 12 to 15 Northern Bowlers Association titles and a handful of Huck Finn “Capital Region Bowling Show” crowns.
In fact, he was on pace to become the first bowler to roll a perfect game on that program last week when he started with the first eight strikes. Although he failed to notch that elusive TV perfect game, he did win the tournament.
“I knew nobody had rolled a 300 game on the show before, and I remembered the last time I was on TV, I had the front nine. So I got lined up, and I had a pretty good reaction,” LeClair said.
“I played the lanes differently for the last game. I had just thrown the eighth strike, and I threw it well. So I was ready to try for the 300 game. But I got to the ninth frame, and I just threw it terribly. I knew the situation.”
Local tournament action is all that LeClair has time for nowadays, as he spends 40-50 hours a week in the pro shop.
“The pro shop is doing well,” he said. “I enjoy giving lessons, and I enjoy being in the pro shop all the time, helping out the bowlers. Marv [Sontz] and the other owners at Del Lanes are great people to work for, and it’s a lot of fun being there,” he said.
“But, I guess, there is the downside of doing that kind of work. I really used to enjoy bowling in the Masters tournament, and that’s the event that is going on this week. I just can’t take a week off and go to Las Vegas right now, and that’s disappointing. It is what it is, but I think I’ll try to bowl in the U.S. Open and the Indianapolis stop at the end of the year, because there is less work in the pro shop at that time of year.”
LeClair, who has 70 perfect games, including 28 on the PBA Tour, said it’s difficult giving up the idea of being a full-time pro bowler.
“There are times when I miss it, but what I miss is the old days, the way it used to be. Not the way it is now,” he said.
“I may bowl in the Tournament of Champions, because I liked the old days. The competition was better, in my opinion, and I liked the old format. I don’t really like the head-to-head competition as much. I liked the round-robin competition a lot better.
“Everything these days is favoring certain people and certain styles. Part of the game has gone to a specific type of bowler. Back when I was starting out, you had to work hard to go anywhere in the game. You put in the practice, and the game didn’t come to you. You had to make yourself better. But the way the PBA oils and re-oils the lanes now, all the conditions play the same once you get outside of the house conditions. It used to be a sport. Now, I refer it to being like tiddily winks. You hit the same board every time you play it. That’s the way it is, and I don’t miss that part of the game at all.”
Expect to see LeClair at most of the Huck Finn and NBA tournaments for the rest of the year.
“I enjoy bowling the local tournaments. It’s a good way to help my income a little bit, and I enjoy throwing the ball down the lane as much as ever,” he said. “I hope I can continue bowling. I feel like bowling every day right now. I’ve lost some weight, and I’m in great shape.”
LeClair has even changed his attitude about the classic house-shot condition that has produced so many outlandishly high scores these days.
“I used to be sour on the house shot that everybody was putting up, but now I accept it as part of the game,” he said. “I actually enjoy it now that I’m not bowling with that old attitude.”
Any regrets about his long career on the PBA Tour?
“Just that one. I always pushed for that one national title, but I never got it,” he said. “I came close, though.”
Team USA’s Shannon Pluhowsky of Kettering, Ohio, won her third World Bowling Writers Female Bowler of the Year honor and a spot in the World Bowling Writers Hall of Fame, according to the latest USBC press release.
She joins Australia’s Cara Honeychurch (1998) and Colombian standout Clara Guerrero (2009) as the only bowlers in the organization’s history to receive both awards in the same year.
Pluhowsky made history at the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Women’s Championships in September when she became the first bowler to claim four gold medals in one tournament.
The 29-year-old left-hander won doubles and trios gold at the World Women’s Championships before helping Team USA to its first team gold medal in 24 years. She added a bronze medal in all-events and then wowed bowling fans in Hong Kong by rolling games of 300 and 299 on the way to the Masters title.
In all, Pluhowsky has won more than 20 medals in international competition. Her list of accomplishments also includes three Professional Bowlers Association Women’s Series victories, three consecutive USBC Junior Gold Championships wins, QubicaAMF World Cup titles in 2002 and 2004, two NCAA team national championships and a USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships win with Nebraska and a USBC Queens title as an amateur in 2006.
The 2011 World Bowling Writers Male Bowler of the Year is PBA star Mika Koivuniemi of Finland.
Meanwhile, the USBC Masters, the first PBA live telecast of the season, will be shown Sunday on ESPN from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
STRIKES AND SPARES
* The Huck Finn/Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York scratch singles tour continues this week with qualifiers Saturday at Alpha Lanes in Troy (1 p.m. for seniors only and 3 p.m. for regular qualifying) and Sunday at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at Towne Bowling Academy. The finals will follow. First place is $1,000 guaranteed. Call Jeff Segel at 439-7628 for reservations. Also, qualifying for the Super Bowl Doubles tournament will be Feb. 4 at Spare Time-Latham at 3 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 10 a.m. at Boulevard Bowl. This popular event will be limited to the first 60 teams.
* The annual Blizzard Bowl will begin March 10 with a 9:45 p.m. squad at Boulevard Bowl. Anyone who bowls on that squad will be eligible for a free entry into the singles/doubles event at Burnt Hills Lanes. Other dates for the team event at Boulevard Bowl are March 18, March 25, April 1 and April 15 at 11:45 a.m. and April 21 at 9:45 p.m. The singles/doubles event at Burnt Hills Lanes will be held March 24, March 31, April 14 and April 21 at 12:30 p.m. As usual, there will be a continental breakfast for the Sunday morning squads and a buffet for the Saturday night squads. Call Boulevard Bowl for more information.
* Longtime Vitalo Classic secretary Dave Mennillo will be out of action with another injury for about six to eight weeks. The local postman broke his ankle after slipping on some ice while walking his route. Mennillo already missed some time earlier this season after injuring himself in a fall. We hope he has a quick recovery, but he’ll still be keeping track of all of the Vitalo stats and figures.
* Our condolences to the family of Anthony Tebano, who died suddenly last week. Tebano, son of Pat and Debra Tebano, was a standout bowler who rolled several perfect games. He was a Niskayuna High School graduate and worked for Price Chopper locally before relocating to North Carolina.
* Jon Van Dyke won the first Sportsman’s Eliminator tournament last week. Van Dyke led the two-game qualifier with 520 and then beat Joe O’Toole, 550-505. Van Dyke earned $159, while O’Toole took home $95. Scott Zalud, B.J. Rucinski and Vince Bottone Sr. also cashed. Bowlers can try to qualify each week either through their league or in special qualifiers when lanes are available at Sportsman’s Bowl. Handicap is 80 percent of 240, and all you need to qualify for the Monday night eliminators is a 665 with handicap. Cost if qualifying within your league is $10. Cost outside of league play is $15. Call Sportsman’s Bowl at 355-4330 for more information.
* The following are the first-place winners from each division who bowled in the Capital District 600 Club annual tournament held at Uncle Sam Lanes in Troy recently. Division A, Phai Fitch, Troy, 247-635; Division B, Janice Durfee, Troy/Capital City, 245-708; Division C, Gail Browning, Electric City, 244-666; Division D, Pamela Robinson, Capital City, 196-510.
* The Capital District Youth Scholarship Tour continues Saturday with a tournament at 1 p.m. at Redwood Lanes. Call Redwood at 869-3581 or call tournament directors Steve Fawcett or Mark Taylor at 393-8296 for more information.
* The annual Redwood Lanes Tavern Tournament will be held Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. Entry fee is $125 per five-person team. One in five teams will cash. First place will be $500 guaranteed, based on 24 teams. Handicap will be 100 percent of 220. Included will be a hot buffet. Call Redwood at 869-3581 for reservations.
* The second annual Iroquois Lanes Youth Challenge will be held Feb. 26 at noon and 2:30 p.m., followed by the finals. Entry fee is $20. Trophies and deposits into USBC SMART accounts will be awarded. Bowlers will be divided into two average groups: 150 and above and 149 and below. Handicap will be 100 percent of 220. All youth bowlers will bowl three games, with the top five in each group advancing to a stepladder finals within their division. All bowlers must be USBC sanctioned. Call Millards Snell (993-2965) or Ken Smith Jr. (607-264-3164) for more information.
* The Menagerie league, which bowls 6:15 p.m. Fridays at Boulevard Bowl, still has seven openings. Dues are $15 a week. Contact Boulevard Bowl if interested in joining.
* Jiacomo Scaccia of Alpha Lanes tossed a 300 game en route to a 740 triple in the Joey Schmidt Capital District Junior Pro Scoring League at Boulevard Bowl last weekend.
* The Schenectady-Scotia Women’s Bowling Association’s 74th annual Championship Tournament will be held at Sportsman’s Bowl, with the team event set for April 30 through May 4, and the doubles/singles event scheduled for May 7-11. Entry fee is $16 per event. Entries close April 16. Contact Millie Kielmann at 390-9499 for more information.
* The Troy Bowling Association’s annual Plastic Ball Open will be held Saturday at Hometown Lanes at 1 p.m. There are only 72 spots available. Cost is $22 per bowler.
* The Albany Bowling Association’s Trio Tournament continues at Spare Time-East Greenbush Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m., Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., Feb. 4 at 1 and 3 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. Entry fee is $63 per team. Call the Albany Bowling Association at 465-4878 for reservations or more information.
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