CLIFTON PARK — James Naismith. Walter Camp. Alexander Cartwright.
While Gentiluomo’s name may not ring a bell like the others, he’s certainly made a significant impact on the sporting landscape with his invention some 40 years ago of the modern bowling ball.
The 98-year-old Schenectady resident, Mont Pleasant Technical School graduate and World War II veteran used one of them to roll a frame Friday as part of a re-opening ceremony at Spare Time Clifton Park.
“He changed bowling,” Spare Time manager Scott McGlauflin said after Gentiluomo and several local dignitaries fired the first balls at the facility since it was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. “He definitely did.”
Gentiluomo was never an avid bowler himself, yet with his ball modification, he helped so many of them enhance both their enjoyment and productivity on the lanes.
“It took my brain to come up with it,” Gentiluomo explained. “The old ball was molded with one material and had a heavier cover. I put all the weight inside to get more power at the pins.”
Gentiluomo, who worked at GE, IBM and Mechanical Technology before branching out on his own, is the owner of 28 patents, including several different golf balls and a mechanical hand used by NASA.
“I was inventing things in all kinds of sports. I created a golf ball with less hooking and slicing. It had to do with the density of the ball,” the 1950 RPI graduate said. “I figured I’d do the same thing with a bowling ball. The old ball would start spinning sooner. When you throw my ball down the alley, it slides better and goes into the pins with more energy.”
Senator Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville), who had a hand in Gentiluomo’s invite to the opening ceremony, was among the dignitaries who tossed a few balls. Before that, he presented Gentiluomo with a proclamation recognizing his contribution to bowling.
“We are honored today to have the man who allows us to knock down more pins than we probably ever could,” Tedisco said.
Gentiluomo’s first ball slowly veered left and found the gutter near the end of the lane. On his second roll, after moving slightly to his right for his approach, he knocked down eight pins.
“I told them, ‘The alley looks narrow. Holy cow,’ ” Gentiluomo said afterward. “The first one wasn’t so good. On the second one, I compensated and did the job. I did a little better.”
Gentiluomo couldn’t pinpoint the last time he bowled, but said it had been some time.
“When I was in the service, I bowled in a league,” he said. “After I got out in 1946, I bowled once or twice, but I was always interested in a lot of sports.”
While at Mont Pleasant, Gentiluomo played basketball when legendary coach Sig Makofski was running the program, and ran track under Norm Kitching, another Schenectady City School Athletic Hall of Fame member. He graduated in 1941 and enlisted in the U.S. Army the next year, and eventually reached the rank of staff sergeant. He entered RPI following his military hitch, which included a stay in Okinawa when the allied forces were preparing to attack Japan.
“He’s so smart,” said Gentiluomo’s daughter, Diane Simone. “When I would go to him with a math problem, it would turn into a two-hour conversation. I knew I was in for a whole afternoon.”
Gentiluomo said he was a bit surprised when he was asked to spend part of Friday afternoon at the bowling alley.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s been so long. I invented the ball in 1980.”
Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.