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|| News Item: Posted 2004-01-29

Oh Spare Me: Covering the Pro Bowling Tour
By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

You gotta love the bowling fans.
"Back in the day", as the kids like to say, professional bowling was a big-time sport. You could find it nationally televised every Saturday afternoon, and it was then that a boy of 10 or so, such as myself, could learn about exotic American cities like Akron, Ohio and Fresno, California.

It's stars had names like Nelson Burton, Jr, Johnnie Petraglia, Larry Laub, Mark Roth and everyone's favorite bowling name, Mike Limongello! Earl Anthony was the Michael Jordan of the sport, which died out as the "Big Three" sports took over the airwaves in the '80's.

Pro bowling was so big that ABC's Chris Schenkel, who also broadcasted the Olympics, was its main voice.

Fast forward to 2004, where the Pro Bowling Association Tour is back with a vengeance. A hipper, smarter, and certainly LOUDER vengeance. The televised finals of the Seattle event were held in January, and I was lucky enough to witness the renaissance of bowling first hand.

Yes, the balls are still round and colorful. And yes, the lanes look the same, and yes, the bowlers still wear those goofy bowling shirts.

But that's where any similarities to your parent's bowling league ends.

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times
For example, the finals weren't televised from a bowling alley (oops, that's a bowling "center", as I was gently corrected by a media person). The tour constructed four lanes at Fisher Pavilion, a sort of multi-use building at Seattle Center. The lanes were ringed by moving floodlights and spots, giving the entire place the feel of a disco. Well, add the hardwood lanes, and it had the feel of a "roller disco".

Let's not forget the music. Quasi-rock music, seemingly culled straight from the latest "Jock Jams" collection.

The introductions of the players were straight from the NBA or the NFL --- rising music, flashing lights, the overwrought P.A. guy, and then...YES!. … a bowler jogging out in his polyester outfit! AND HE'S HIGH-FIVING THE FANS!"

Yes, they really high-fived the fans. And then they bowled.

I could describe to you the bowling, but hell, it was bowling. And of the five finalists, they whittled it down to an eventual champion, who took home the $40,000 first place purse when the guy leading him in the 10th frame couldn't manage a miserly spare to win it all.

To put that in perspective, these guys "mark" (make a strike or spare) about 95% of the time. So for him to miss was like golfer missing a two-footer to lose a tourney. And yes, he was pissed. Slammed his balls into a bag (his BOWLING balls, sickos) and walked off. It was quite shocking and a little sad. The once-crazed audience didn't quite know what to think.

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Walter Ray Williams Jr. shows off the form that won him the title at the PBA Earl Anthony Classic, whose final round was televised from the Fischer Pavilion at Seattle Center.
But, as they like to say on those infomercials --- "WAIT! --- THERE'S MORE!"

There were actual ... hmmm ... cheerleaders? Groupies? They were dressed like they'd just been brought from a 1950's sock-hop in a time machine, except for the extremely low-rise jeans. And what was with those crowns? And were they really knowledgeable enough to have created hand-painted signs for each of the finalists? Check out the photo -- you decide.

Seeing them gave me one of those "Sex In the City" moments where Carrie asks herself the thematic question of each episode.

Sitting there, in the "photo well" next to the bowling lanes (three of us), I pondered, "Is bowling now hip enough that these guys have groupies?"

No way. It couldn't be. I asked the P.R. guy - "Were those girls actual fans or were they brought here by the tour?" He looked at me directly and said, "I honestly don't know". Did I detect a smirk trying to work its way across his face?

So I chased them down and asked them directly -- and here's what they said: "Well, yes a friend of a friend works for the PBA Tour asked us to come be on T.V. and it sounded like fun!" And then her friend chimed in, "and, they gave us these cool crowns and things, and we actually had a good time!"

The PBA Tour --- it's loud, it's proud, and it's coming to a city near you.

And if you know any cute girls who want to be on TV, send them down to the local bowling alley.

Oops, I mean, "bowling CENTER".

(Rod Mar is a staff photographer at the Seattle Times. If you need actual tips on shooting bowling pictures, he suggests you ask someone else.)

Related Links:
Rod Mar's member page

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