Brian LeClair thought he would never see the bright lights of television again — at least not in front of the camera.
The 48-year-old former PBA touring pro has dabbled with some color commentary on a few episodes of the Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York/Huck Finn “Capital Region Bowling Show,” but after a 10-year drought, he’ll be bowling on ESPN again when he competes in the PBA
Regional Players Invitational finals Oct. 18-20 at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.
LeClair earned the berth after capturing the biggest title of his long pro career last Sunday in the PBA East Region Players Invitational at Maple City Bowl in Hornell.
The former Athens resident, who now lives in Albany, beat Rick Graham of Lancaster, Pa., 222-169, to win the title, his 15th career
regional crown. He picked up a check for $6,000, as well as a paid entry into the PBA World Series of Bowling V in Las Vegas next month, to go along with his berth in the PBA RPI Finals.
The victory was a huge surprise for LeClair, who hasn’t bowled full-time on the PBA Tour for many years, and now spends most of his time running a pair of pro shops. He operates Revolutions Pro Shop at Del Lanes and recently began drilling balls and selling equipment at Revolutions 2 at Towne Bowling Academy.
“This was definitely an unexpected win,” said LeClair this week. “I haven’t been winning much, and I haven’t even been bowling that much lately. I finished third in a
regional in Ohio, but I’ve only bowled in my league once or twice since then. I’ve been busy at Del Lanes, and now I’m also working at Towne Bowling Academy helping out Marty [proprietor Marty Capullo Jr.]. I’ve had no time to practice, and it showed, because I struggled just to get to the finals. Yet, it turned out to be a good weekend.”
LeClair, who turns 49 next month, said his toughest matches were in the Round of 8 against Robert Mockenhaupt, and then in the semifinals against Ryan Ciminelli, a talented left-hander from Cheektowaga.
“In my first two matches [3-1 victories in best-of-five matches against Jason Stadtler and Tommy Dakouvanos], things went pretty well,” he said. “But in my third match against Mockenhaupt, I was down by 50 pins in the fifth frame of the fifth and deciding game. I started out split, spare, split, split, split. But I said to myself that the lanes were hard, and you never know what could happen. I knew I was capable of throwing seven strikes in a row, no matter what the conditions are.”
LeClair took a big gamble on the left lane of his pair by making a major move on the approach, and when Mockenhaupt missed a key spare, it opened the door for LeClair to strike out for the win.
Against Ciminelli, LeClair fell behind once again after an open in his first frame, but he fought back one more time.
“That’s the most pressure I felt. I needed to throw a strike in my first shot in the 10th frame, and I threw it as well as I could throw it. That’s the most pressure I’ve felt in a long time,” LeClair said. “I ended up winning, 215-203. The last game against Graham, I was ahead the whole way, so I didn’t feel any pressure at all.”
LeClair explained that earning a berth in the PBA RPI finals, as well picking up a big check, were nice, but the most important thing for him was that he finally won a major event under pressure.
“This is the biggest win I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve never won anything that is this special. It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve last bowled on television, and I never thought I’d be bowling on ESPN again.
“I’ve won at least one title in each of the past five years. But when you’re 48 years old, you never know if you’re going to ever win again. I like bowling on tough conditions, and I love it when I get a chance to bowl on wood lanes.”
LeClair, who has more than $690,000 in career PBA earnings, is best known for his two runner-up finishes in TV finals. He lost to PBA career victory leader Walter Ray Williams Jr., in both the 1996 Track Synergy Open and the 1996 Showboat Invitational. He also lost in the TV finals to PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III twice.
“I’ve never won anything that really meant something,” he said. “Most of my big wins were in some amateur events, and some other PBA regionals. Obviously, this is a higher-end regional, if you will, and to be able to bowl on ESPN again is great. I’m really looking forward to it.
“This means a lot to me. I want my name on something, and I’ve finally got my name on a big trophy.”
CDYST opener set
The fourth season of the Capital District Youth Scholarship Tour begins Saturday at Spare Time-Latham at 1 p.m.
The CDYST is an opportunity for the best scratch youth bowlers in the area to bowl head-to-head for scholarships in challenging tournament conditions. Last year, more than $15,000 in scholarships were awarded.
Season membership fee is $30, and individual tournament entry fee is also $30, paid in advance, or $32 the day of the tournament.
The CDYST also has a new sponsor in Bowling This Month magazine, and all new members will receive a complimentary 12-month subscription.
Also of interest for CDYST members is the fact that the 2014 Junior Gold and Youth Open Championships are being held in Buffalo in July. Several CDYST events will also be Junior Gold qualifiers.
Other tournaments in the first half of the season include Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. at Towne Bowling Academy, Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. at Hometown Lanes, Nov. 23 at 1:30 p.m. at Sportsman’s Bowl, Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. at Del Lanes and Dec. 29-30 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the CDYST Holiday Open at Towne Bowling Academy.
For more information, call 982-0035 or visit www.cdystinfo.com.
STRIKES & SPARES
- The inaugural Sparky’s Doubles Challenge will be held Sunday at Sportsman’s Bowl. Entry fee will be $100 per team. The format will be four games across the entire house. Two games will be on a challenge pattern, and two games will be on a house shot. Prize payout will be one in five, with a first-place prize of $1,500, based on the maximum of 42 teams. The top four teams advance to a stepladder finals. Call Sportsman’s at 355-4330 for more information.
- Ed Gumm beat Andy Smith, 227-212, to win the first New Era Senior Tournament event of the season last Saturday Sportsman’s Bowl. Gumm won $375, and Smith took home $220. Kate Gardner ($170) and Art Van Buren ($170) were third and fourth. In other NEST news, the third annual Digger’s Doubles tournament, sponsored by Ron Gardner, will be held Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. at Uncle Sam Lanes in Troy. Space is limited for this special over-50/under-50 event. Call Jim Burton at 209-4748 for more information.
- Osku Palermaa of Finland and Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J. will be inducted into the World Bowling Writers International Bowling Hall of Fame in early November.
- Towne Bowling Academy’s Scratch Challenge has a few spots available for the Oct. 13 event. Bowling begins at 9:30 a.m. This will be the first of a series of points tournaments being sponsored by Towne Bowling Academy. Call 355-3939 for more information.
- Tom Donato is running a Tavern Tournament Oct. 26 at 2:30 p.m. at Towne Bowling Academy. Entry fee will be $100 per four-person teams Top prize will be $400 to the winning team, based on 20 teams. One in five teams will cash. Special prizes and a buffet will be included. Call Donato at 496-7812 or Towne Bowling Academy for more information.