Professional bowling has come full circle.
When the Professional Bowlers Association first started in the early 1960s, it was the heyday of the great travel-league teams, like the old Budweiser squad from St. Louis that included some of the greatest stars of the day. The quintet of future ABC Hall of Famers Ray Bluth, Don Carter, Tom Hennessey, Pat Patterson and Dick Weber fired a 3,858 series in the Masters league in St. Louis, and their score shattered the ABC record at the time by 61 pins, a mark that stood for nearly 36 years.
Legendary local stars like Joe Donato, Joey Schmidt, Skip Vigars, John Walther and Morris Cramer also competed in the old team format because it was the standard of the day.
The PBA singles’ format in tournament play eventually killed off the old travel-league team format, and many of those great stars from the past joined the PBA.
Now, team bowling is back with the new eight-team PBA League, which kicks off its season with a live telecast on ESPN Sunday at noon from Thunderbowl Lanes in suburban Detroit.
Although the usual singles format in tournament play will remain the PBA’s focus, the PBA league will run concurrently. All eight teams are owned by celebrities from the worlds of both entertainment and sports.
The pro bowlers will use their tournament scores to produce their team qualifying scores for the ESPN telecasts. The teams will then utilize a Baker format, where each team member will bowl two frames in each game to combine for one score.
I chatted with PBA Tour commissioner Tom Clark about the new concept this week, and he was extremely upbeat.
“It’s weird how this all started,” said Clark. “It was kind of a cumulative thing when it comes to who actually came up with the idea. We were going to do something different, because we wanted a new way to position the PBA for the future. We needed notoriety and credibility. We already had celebrity involvement with [Los Angeles Clippers guard] Chris Paul and his celebrity invitational for the last four years. He always had a younger demographic. One thought was that we needed to bring those personalities to the PBA more than once a year.”
Clark said there was also another reason for the move to a league format.
“The other thing that was working for us was that we were able to get some sponsorship integration for our summer series of team events,” he said. “There was a desire to have a package that would work better for the sponsors, and there was that desire to get the celebrities more involved. Chris Paul showed interest in becoming more involved, and he thought there should be teams.”
Clark said the idea of a PBA league really started to take off when PBA CEO Geoff Reiss saw pictures of the old Budweiser teams at the bowling hall of fame.
“Geoff is new to bowling, but when he saw those pictures, the idea resonated with him. Jeff gave us the green light to go ahead with the idea about a year ago, and I’ve been recruiting celebrities and working out ways to run the league ever since,” Clark said.
“Team bowling is the way most people today bowl, whether it be in high school, college or in their league. It’s funny, because the original bowling league guys from Budweiser didn’t survive because of the PBA singles’ format. The singles format won out back in 1961 and 1962, but it’s ironic that the league format has come back with the PBA.
“I think the players have all bought into the concept — especially the ones who got drafted. We’ve worked closely with the players because we wanted to maintain their singles format and bring in the team concept, as well.”
Clark certainly knows bowling and has an excellent resume. The Syracuse native bowled in the junior travel league back home and also bowled for the Buffalo State team for four years. He eventually went to journalism school and worked for USA Today before landing a job as the chief marketing officer for the USBC. That was his springboard to become the PBA commissioner.
“Team bowling is certainly not original, but we’ve been thinking about doing something different like this for a few years now,” said Clark. “Geoff finally told us we could pull the trigger. It’s sort of a big risk, but we think it will work.”
Norm Duke is the captain of the Dallas Strikers, with celebrity owner Terrell Owens of the NFL. Amleto Monacelli, Mike Machuga, Rhino Page, Bryon Smith and Mike Wolfe round out his team.
Pete Weber is the captain of the New York City WTT KingPins, with celebrity owner Billie Jean King, one of the all-time great women tennis players. Scott Norton, John Szczerbinski, Tommy Jones, Jack Jurek and Kelly Kulick are the team members.
The Philadelphia Hitmen are captained by Bill O’Neill with comedian Kevin Hart as the owner. Chris Loschetter, Dick Allen, Mika Koivuniemi, Mike DeVaney and Dino Castillo comprise the squad.
Paul is the owner of the Los Angeles X team captained by two-hander Jason Belmonte, with Andres Gomes, Wes Malott, Parker Bohn III, Dave Wodka and Ildemaro Ruiz on the team.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is the team owner, and Mike Fagan is the captain of the Detroit Motown Muscle, which includes Tom Smallwood, Mike Scroggins, Ronnie Russell, D.J. Archer and Jesse Buss.
Actor Jessie Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) is the owner of the Brookyn Styles, with Sean Rash the captain and team members Ryan Ciminelli, Ryan Shafer, Walter Ray Williams Jr., Tom Hess and Jason Sterner.
The Silver Lake Atom Splitters are owned by Chris Hardwick and captained by Chris Barnes. Team members include Josh Blanchard, Nathan Bohr, Stuart Williams, Dom Barrett and Jon Van Hess.
Another two-hander, Osku Palermaa, is the captain of the LaMarr Woodley-owned Pittsburgh Jack Rabbits, which include Thomas Larsen, Martin Larsen, Dan MacLelland, Patrick Allen and Anthony LaCaze.
HUCK FINN CORNER
Matt Sherman of Ravena defeated Steve Wagoner of Broadalbin, 670-658, in the Huck Finn “TV Tournament Time” tournament that featured a three-game format.
Unfortunately, local bowling fans couldn’t watch the end of the match, because FOX23 cut into the “Capital Region Bowling Show” broadcast for an announcement involving President Obama’s inauguration.
Willy Lattimore (scratch) defeated Toby Scarin (amateur) in the finals of the Huck Finn Scratch/Handicap tournament Sunday at Uncle Sam Lanes.
In other Huck Finn news, the popular Huck Finn Super Bowl Doubles will have qualifiers Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. at Spare Time-Latham and Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. at Boulevard Bowl. Finals follow at 1 p.m. First place will be $2,000.
The Huck Finn Mixed Doubles, with a top prize of $1,400, will be held Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. at Sportsman’s Bowl, with the finals at 1 p.m. There will be same-day TV taping at Iroquois Lanes in Canajoharie. The men bowl scratch, and the women receive 100 percent of a 220 average.
Reservations are strongly recommended for both doubles events. Call Jeff Segel at 439-7628.
STRIKES AND SPARES
u The third annual Towne Bowling Academy Team Tournament wraps up with four squads this weekend. There are two squads Saturday, at 2:30 and 6 p.m., followed by Sunday squads at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. There are only a few spots left, and teams must pay the full $140 entry fee to guarantee a spot.
u Towne Bowling Academy is also holding an Open Doubles Scratch Challenge Feb. 16 at 2:30 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 9 a.m. and noon, followed by the finals at 3 p.m. The format will be four games, skipping pairs after each game. One in five teams will advance to the semifinals. The top eight teams move on to the bracket finals, with the top team off each squad receiving an automatic berth into the bracket finals. The semifinals will be a two-game format, with the top five teams moving on. A sport pattern will be used. Entry fee is $130 per team. Top prize will be $2,000, with $1,000 for second. Call Towne at 355-3939 for reservations.
u The Troy Bowling Association’s Plastic Ball Tournament will be held Saturday at Hometown Lanes. Only plastic balls are allowed, and they can’t be cleaned or sanded. Left-hander Alex Weglarz of Schaghticoke is the defending champion.
u The Capital District Youth Scholarship Tour continues Saturday at 1 p.m. at Burnt Hill Lanes.
u The New Era Women’s Tour will hold its second event of the season at 1 p.m. Sunday at Sunset Recreation. Entry fee is $50. Call Jim Burton at 209-4748 for reservations.
u The 43rd annual Women’s Doubles Invitational will be held Feb. 23 at Boulevard Bowl. For information, contact Kathy Nucci at 458-7639. Entry deadline is Feb. 15.
u Jacob Rivers Jr. bowled games of 298, 268 and 300 for a huge 866 triple in the Troy USBC Youth City Tournament last weekend at Uncle Sam Lanes.
u Rick Rovelli of Colonie rolled a 300 game en route to a 767 triple in a Suburban Council match against Shaker this week.
u Dan Knutti, 27, had a memorable Monday night. Competing in the Cosmopolitan Mixed League, where he carries a 210 average, he collected his first perfect game on lanes 3 and 4 at Sportsman’s Bowl. He finished with a 706 series, his second 700 triple ever. Knutti also bowled second shift the same night in the Sportsman’s Monday Night Classic, where he carries a 209 average. He bowled on lanes 5 and 6 and rolled his second career 300 game en route to a 678.
u Hudson Valley Community College’s men’s team won the Hawk Invitational for the fourth consecutive time last week. Averill Park’s Craig Wojaszek rolled his first 300 game, while Coxsackie-Athens’ Mike Hartman finished third in the all-events with a 932 in singles and a 919 in doubles. For the women, the Vikings finished third, led by Chelsea Smith and Jennifer Lynch, who finished third in doubles. Smith also won the singles with a 797 and was third in the all-events.
u The Annual Electric City 600 Club Tournament will be at Sportsman’s Bowl Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. Entry forms have been delivered to the lanes and labeled with the names of the bowlers that have bowled a 600 series. All entry forms must be turned in before Feb. 14. Contact Marianne Hogle at 393-8907 if you need a form.