Mike Liberatore has been beating the odds all of his life.
Born with short bowel syndrome, the 34-year-old Schenectady native wasn’t expected to live beyond the age of 8. Now, he’s a scratch bowler who not only competes in five leagues, but can often be found at a local bowling center every single day of the week.
This guy simply loves bowling. He can’t get enough of it.
Nicknamed “Little Mikey” for obvious reasons, the diminutive Liberatore is perhaps one of the most recognizable keglers in the Capital Region. He always wears his cap backwards and is never without his handy earphone plugs, so he can listen to his favorite R&B and hip hop music while he competes.
“I wasn’t able to play contact sports as a kid,” Liberatore said. “When I was 9 years old, my Mom put us in a bowling league. That was about the only thing I could do back then. My short bowel syndrome left me very fatigued all the time. I was very isolated. It took me quite a while to get used to all my symptoms in school. I had to wear a back pack with an IV in it throughout high school.”
Those afflicted with short bowel syndrome are either born that way, or develop certain illnesses which require surgery that removes large parts of the small intestine. Fatigue, weight loss and weakness are just a few of the symptoms. It is difficult for these patients to absorb enough nutrients in their body. Many bruise easily, suffer from anemia and have thinning and fragile bones.
“I managed to wean myself off the machine, and for a while, I didn’t have to be on it for 24 hours. But then, I was back on it for a while. Now, I’m doing a lot better, and I’ve got my strength back,” he said.
Liberatore taught himself the basics of the game as a youngster, but he took it up a notch with help from J.P. Harrell, one of the area’s top scratch bowlers.
“He taught me 70 percent of what I know about this game,” Liberatore said. “He handed me down some bowling balls and kind of helped me get better movement on the lanes. He’s helped me more than anybody else in this game.”
Liberatore currently generates surprising speed on his release, and he tries to keep himself in top shape so he can excel at his favorite pastime.
“When I was younger, I didn’t think I would get this far,” he said. “Nobody wanted me to be on their team when I was younger. Now, if someone asks me to bowl with them in a league or in a tournament, I tell them ‘you bet.’ ”
Liberatore had to step back from bowling when he contracted walking pneumonia in 2015, but he came back strong once again. Now he competes in the Sportsman’s Majors on Monday nights (211 average), the Wannabees league at Sportsman’s Bowl on Wednesday nights (a league-leading 210 average), the Capital District All Star league Thursday nights at Sportsman’s Bowl (208 average), the Vitalo Classic Saturday night at Sportsman’s Bowl (208 average) and the Boulevard Semi-Classic Sunday nights at Boulevard Bowl (213 average).
He also competes in as many tournaments as possible and subs in other leagues when he has the time.
“Controlling my footwork and getting the ball out on the lane, making sure it flips, are the keys for me,” Liberatore said. “I didn’t have the speed I do now for many years. I tried out for my high school bowling team at Schenectady, but I didn’t make the team. I did bowl for Ray Ross at SUNY Schenectady for a year and a half, but I didn’t finish. Things are going pretty well for me now, though.”
An employee of The Appliance Specialist, Liberatore owns six perfect games and has a high triple of 799.
“I was so close to 800,” he said. “That’s what I want to get next.”
He recently collected his first 1,000 four-game series in the Vitalo Classic. He averaged as high as 222 in the Sunday MLB league at Boulevard Bowl in the 2017-18 season.
“My bowling goals include bowling in a PBA regional at some point,” Liberatore said. “If I can manage to stay on track and roll the ball consistently, there is no reason I can’t do that. I’ve been to a lot of regional tournaments, and I know what equipment to bring. Currently, I’ve got 13 bowling balls. I really like Storm and Roto Grip stuff.”
He knows what he must do to stay healthy and competitive.
“I’m just keeping with my medications and my daily routine. It doesn’t knock me back,” he said. “I try to get to the gym, and I’m always working on my footwork and my rhythm. I’ve got to keep my feet steady to be successful.”
Liberatore’s life motto appears on his Facebook page.
“So far, I have proved everyone wrong and living life as large as possible,” he wrote.
True enough. Over the last couple of seasons, he’s definitely got my vote for most improved bowler.
FAREWELL TO A STAR
The Capital Region bowling community lost one of its shining stars last week when Keith Livengood died after competing in the Capital District All Star league last Thursday night. His family took him off life support at Ellis Hospital the following morning.
Livengood, a 63-year-old lefty who was a passionate fan of the New York Yankees and NASCAR, was an outstanding kegler in both the Schenectady USBC and Albany USBC. He was a four-time Albany Bowling Association Player of the Year but also excelled when he moved his game to Schenectady and was named to the Schenectady USBC Hall of Fame.
The Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School grad earned his Bachelor of Science in engineering from RPI, and his masters at Union College. A sports memorabilia salesman, insurance professional and a real estate agent, he became one of the area’s top bowlers with 110 perfect games and 46 800 triples. He won numerous Northern Bowlers Association titles, among other notable tournament victories, owned many high-average league crowns and cashed in the 1993 U.S. Open.
He will be missed.
Altamont’s Nick Galusha, 37, who seems to bowl at his best in major tournaments, won the biggest event of his career over the weekend by capturing the prestigious 33rd annual Super Bud Bowl at Lighthouse Lanes in Oswego.
Galusha, a graduate of Colonie High School and Erie Community College, is the owner of Carpet This. He won $5,500, quite a payday. There were more than 1,000 entries in the field.
Galusha competed in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association State Bowling Championships three times for Colonie. Among his most notable tournament wins was the Double “J” Scratch Tournament at Town & Country Lanes, the Huck Finn Capital Region Bowling Show’s Over 50/Under 50 Championship when he teamed up with Kenny Hall; the Baker Doubles title at Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center with partner Matt Sherman and the annual Team Handicap Tournament at Towne Bowling Academy.
Broadalbin’s Steve Wagoner finished third.
The local bowling community knows by now that nearly everything on the league and tournament front has either been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
As of now, the United States Bowling Congress is postponing or suspending nationally conducted USBC events until at least May 1. That includes the USBC Open Championships, USBC Women’s Championships, USBC Convention, USBC Masters and USBC Senior Queens.
The start of the PWBA Tour, which includes our own Liz Kuhlkin of Rotterdam, has been postponed indefinitely.
The New York State USBC announced earlier this week that all NYS USBC events have been canceled. That includes the New York State Open Championship, which was set over six weekends at Boulevard Bowl in April and May. A total of 194 teams had already signed up.
Almost all of the Capital Region bowling centers are currently closed or are operating on a day-to-day basis and allowing only events with the state-mandated maximum of 50 people. Boulevard Bowl is closed for the next two weeks, Sportsman’s Bowl is closed until further notice, and Towne Bowling Academy is open on a limited basis, but its leagues and tournaments are postponed for now. Most of the centers in the Troy USBC and Albany USBC associations are closed until further notice, as are Kelly’s Imperial Lanes in Amsterdam, Arterial Lanes in Gloversville, Perry Lanes in Johnstown, Middleburgh Lanes and Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center in South Glens Falls. Saratoga Strike Zone in Saratoga Springs is currently open.
That means tournaments, like the Joe and Tom Donato Scratch Singles, which had its finals set for this Sunday at Towne Bowling Academy, are postponed. With Boulevard Bowl shutting down for a few weeks, the Blizzard Bowl is also on hold. So is the Charlie Bechard Senior Tournament at Green Island Lanes and the Amateur Bowlers Association of New York singles tournament this Sunday at Sportsman’s Bowl.
The Capital District Youth Scholarship Tour is also shut down for the time being and will resume when and if the local bowling centers are able to open up again for full schedules.
STRIKES & SPARES
To all bowling league secretaries who report their league scores to The Daily Gazette. Please don’t fax them and instead email them to [email protected]. The Daily Gazette sports department won’t be checking the fax machine as often as usual as the staff adapts and adjusts to sports news in this era of numerous postponement and cancellations.
Kimberly Wilson of Troy (764 handicap total) is the unofficial champion of the Schenectady USBC Women’s Singles Championship last weekend at Sportsman’s Bowl. Jackie Oliveira (753) of Schenectady and Jeanne Mastro (752) of Schenectady also cashed. Twenty-four bowlers competed over the two days.
The Schenectady USBC Board of Directors meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Boulevard Bowl has been canceled.
Schenectady USBC president Bill Nolan reminds local bowlers that applications for the association’s Hall of Fame are available on its website (www.usbc-sba.com) and can be submitted to the SBA Office at Boulevard Bowl as soon as possible.
Also from Nolan, applications for the association’s two major junior scholarships, the William Tighe Memorial for the boys and the Deborah Fawcett Memorial for the girls, are available through their junior program directors or by contacting Nolan at [email protected].
All the major leagues in the Schenectady USBC were postponed this week.
The Sportsman’s Majors, which bowls on Mondays, has decided to postpone for two weeks. The Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial City League is postponing for one week and will look at the situation again next week.
With Boulevard Bowl closing for two weeks, the Frank DePalma Boulevard Classic, which bowls on Tuesdays, is out of action for the time being. The Reis Group Kim Brown Mixed Doubles league, which competes on Wednesday night at Towne Bowling Academy, has elected to skip this week and reassess the situation next week.
The Capital District All Star league, which bowls on Thursday nights at Sportsman’s Bowl, has postponed league play for two weeks. The Vitalo Classic, which competes on Saturday nights, will most likely follow suit because of the rule which prohibits public gatherings with more than 50 people.
The Amsterdam Men’s City league at Kelly’s Imperial Lane is not bowling for at least two weeks as that center is closed for at least that amount of time.