Brian LeClair knows that there will come a time when he won’t be able to compete anymore with the young lions of the bowling game.
But don’t hold your breath.
LeClair, the 48-year-old former PBA touring pro from Athens, showed he still has the right stuff when he beat PBA Tour member Ryan Shafer, 266-235, in the finals of the 21st annual Michelob Ultra Scratch Challenge last Sunday at Pin-O-Rama Lanes in Utica.
The victory was worth $3,000 to LeClair, but more importantly, it validated all the hard work he’s been doing lately to keep his game in shape.
The Michelob Ultra Scratch Challenge is one of the top scratch tournaments in the state, and it drew more than 300 bowlers.
“It feels really good to win again,” said LeClair, who runs the Revolutions Pro Shop at Del Lanes. “That’s the first big amateur event that I’ve won in a long time, if you want to call it an amateur event. Actually, the only reason you can call it an amateur event is that it wasn’t run by the PBA Tour. There were a lot of PBA guys bowling in it, and I had to beat a lot of good players.
“I say to people all the time now that you never know when will be the last time I’m going to win a regular tournament. In a couple of years, I’ll start bowling in senior tournaments.”
LeClair said he’s been working very hard to tweak his physical game, but it was his mental game that helped him prevail in Utica.
“The scores were low. I think I qualified with a plus-79, but I knew that I needed a better look than what I had if I was going to keep advancing,” LeClair said.. “So I watched a couple of the guys, and they were playing the gutter shot. I haven’t played that in a while, but I tried it. I went straight up 5 [fifth board], and although I started out slow, I was able to make several of the cuts. They cut the field from over 300 to about 41 guys, and then down to the top 15. I was only
27-over to make that cut, and Joe Mazuryk just made it with 26-over.
“I continued to play the gutter shot, and I tried a different ball. I ended up shooting 510 for two games, and I made the next two cuts pretty easily. But when we got down to the final six bowlers, three of the other bowlers were also playing the gutter shot, and it started to break down. I got lucky, though, and when we moved lanes, my lanes were tighter, so I went back to the same ball that I used to shoot the 510 for two games, and it worked. I shot a 240 against Joe Paluszek, and I was able to find a good shot against Ryan Shafer, also.”
The victory over Shafer meant a lot to LeClair for a couple of reasons. On his PBA bio, LeClair mentions the fellow New York native as his toughest opponent on tour. LeClair also has plenty of respect for Shafer.
“When I finished bowling against Ryan, he told me that he thought it was a great move, changing bowling balls and going out to the gutter. He also said he always liked my game, and he said he wished everybody bowled like me with my fundamentals. He said he never minded losing to me.”
LeClair, the most successful local bowler ever in the pro ranks, spent most of his adult life as a regular on the PBA Tour. He has $689,590 in career earnings and finished second twice. He lost to Walter Ray Williams Jr. in the title match in each of his two career TV final appearances by a combined three pins, and he also lost TV matches to Parker Bohn III twice.
A loyal PBA regional competitor, LeClair has nine career PBA regional titles.
LeClair is no longer a full-time PBA Tour competitor, but he still dabbles here and there. He is the current PBA East Region points leader, and said he will continue to bowl in regional tournaments when they resume in March.
Until then, his schedule will be spotty.
“I have no real goals right now, but I do want to continue bowling,” he said. “I just look for tournaments here and there. Since I work in the pro shop five or six days a week, I can only really bowl on Saturdays and Sundays. I can’t commit myself to going on the road much because of the pro shop, but I do plan on bowling in the USBC Masters in February. In the short-term, I would say my goal is to bowl in the Masters and not make a fool of myself.
“The good thing is that I’ve been bowling well and finishing in the top 10 or top 12 in every tournament I’ve been bowling in lately. I cashed in a New Year’s Day tournament in New Jersey, and I finished in the top 16 at the 50th anniversary NEBA [New England Bowling Association] Championship. I’ve changed some things in my game since the Tournament of Champions last year, and I’ve been working on them since May. If I stay healthy, I should be able to bowl for a while. Right now, I will bowl as much as I can, but at some point, I won’t be as competitive.”
LeClair knows that his eldest son, Connor, is catching up to him in his physical game, and that his younger son, Taylor, isn’t that far behind.
“There will be a time when I can’t beat Connor, but right now, I like being the head of the household,” he said. “Taylor bowls for Coxsackie-Athens, and I love his soft release. I wish I had that kind of release.”
But for now, Brian LeClair is still a force in local bowling, and he plans to remain that way in the near future.
The qualifying schedule for the 11th annual Joe Donato Scratch Singles tournament has been announced.
Sponsored by Towne TV and Park Building Supplies, the Donato event, one of the region’s major tournaments, will have a top prize of $4,000 guaranteed, with $2,000 for second place. The finals are set for March 17 at Sportsman’s Bowl.
The format will be four games of qualifying across eight lanes. One in five from each squad will cash and will advance to the semifinals. All semifinalists bowl four more games, moving pairs. The top 22 advance to head-to-head elimination matches, with the top bowlers receiving byes.
Entry fees range from $50 to $70.
Former champions include Steve Wagoner, Mike Drexel, Gene Speenburgh, Jerry Burnette Jr., Lee Aiezza, Darrel Coonrad, Ray Cyr, Mike Lichstein, Mike Rose and Steve Ferraro.
For more information, call Tom Donato (496-7812) or Tommy Donato (788-0771).
Feb. 23 — Uncle Sam Lanes, 3; Feb. 24 — Twin City Lanes in Barre, Vt., 10 a.m.; March 1 — Saratoga Strike Zone, 9:30; March 2 — Silver Lanes in East Hartford, Conn., 6; March 3 — Towne Bowling Academy, 6.; March 4 — Imperial Lanes, 9 p.m.; March 8 — Playdium Bowling Center, 7; March 9 — Sportsman’s Bowl, 6; March 10 — Spare Time-Latham, 5; March 12 — Hi-Way Recreation, 9; March 13 — Sunset Recreation, 9; March 14 — Imperial Lanes, 9; March 16 — Sportsman’s Bowl, 1:30, 4, 6:30; March 17 — Sportsman’s Bowl, 9:30 a.m., 12.
HUCK FINN CORNER
This week’s Huck Finn “Capital Region Bowling Show” event will be a scratch/handicap show.
The scratch portion of the event will hold qualifiers Saturday at 3 at Sunset Recreation and Sunday at Town ’N Country at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Entry fee is $35 on Saturday and $40 on Sunday, with re-entry at $35. Huck Finn membership is required if not already paid.
The handicap part of the show, which qualifies bowlers from their league scores, continues at Playdium Sunday at noon. The qualifiers bowl two games, with the top bowlers advancing to match play until the final two handicap bowlers are determined.
The TV taping also will be held Sunday at Uncle Sam Lanes.
Call Jeff Segel at 439-7628 for reservations.
In other Huck Finn news, there were two TV tapings at Barbecue Recreation Sunday. In the special “TV Tournament Time” throwback show, Matt Sherman defeated Steve Wagoner, 670-658, in a three-game match. In the Joe Donato Senior Classic, Rich Strath edged Tony Bianchi in the championship game. Bob McDermott and Ed Gumm also made the TV finals.
Remember, all spectators at the TV finals are eligible to win a free bowling ball.
STRIKES AND SPARES
u Dante Albanese of Gloversville shot his first 600 triple with a 212-613 in the Saturday Preps league at Sportsman’s Bowl last weekend.
u The Crossroads Center for Children No-Tap Tournament will be held tonight at 7, and Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rolling Greens Lanes. All handicaps for the five-person team event are based on 75 percent of a 1,100 team average. Multiple participation is permitted, but no more than three entrants can bowl together again on a different squad. One in 10 teams will earn prizes. Entry fee is $60 per team.
u The Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York’s second annual Adult/Junior Tournament will be held from Sunday through Feb. 10. Teams will qualify in their own center, plus at Middleburgh Lanes, Sportsman’s Bowl and Spare Time-East Greenbush. There will be two divisions: a team total average of 360 and under for Division 1
and a team total average of 361 and over for Division 2. One in eight teams advance to the semifinals at Spare Time-Latham Feb. 17. The TV taping will be Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. at Hi-Way Recreation in Wynantskill, and that show will air March 3 at 11 a.m. on Fox 23.
u Sportsman’s Bowl will host a Coach & Kids Team Tournament Sunday at noon and 2:30 p.m. The teams consist of three juniors and a coach. Competition will be divided into Class A (team averages from 561 to 875), Class B (401-560) and Class C (400 and under). Handicap will be 100 percent of the difference between the highest average team and the rest of the field. Call Sportsman’s Bowl at 355-4330 for more information.
u The third annual Towne Bowling Academy Handicap Team Tournament, sponsored by Ebonite, continues with qualifiers tonight at 9:15, Jan. 26 at 2:30 and 6 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Top prize will be $4,000 per team, with $2,000 for second. There will be an $800 bonus for the best mixed team. A singles event will run concurrently using your team scores. Top prize for the singles event will be $450. Entry fee will be $140 per team, and handicap will be 85 percent of 225. Maximum handicap is 50 pins per person. Call Towne Bowling Academy at 355-3939.