As national sporting events go, it’s older than the World Series, Rose Bowl, March Madness, the Masters and the Super Bowl.
The USBC Open, formerly known as the American Bowling Congress, began in Chicago in 1901. The second ABC was right here in Buffalo the next year. It’s been an annual event every year since, except for a timeout for three years during World War II.
Buffalo and the national championship of bowling have a long history together. This year’s event, the 110th, began last Friday in Reno, Nev., which has hosted the tournament 11 times. Buffalo and Toledo, Ohio, have been home for the tournament seven times.
One of the first ABC all-events champions was Buffalo’s Jimmy Smith in 1911. The last all-events winner from Buffalo was Mike Neumann in 1990. That same year Neumann and Bob Ujvari teamed up to win regular doubles.
The last team champion from Western New York was the powerhouse Zawadzki Jewelers team of Lackawanna in 1999. The first was the Weisser Blue Ribbons of Buffalo in 1925.
Annually upwards of 60,000 bowlers have entered the tournament, which usually runs from March to early July. Even with the event in the far off West, it’s estimated that at least 100 Buffalo area bowlers will make the cross-country trip to the National Bowling Stadium in Reno to complete in singles, doubles, and team competition both regular and classified (handicap) competition.
Next month the USBC Women’s Championship also will be in Reno, at lanes set up in the Sparks County Convention Center.
Jim Wangler, Jr., one of the more active bowlers in the Buffalo area, is an avid participants in the Open. He will lead four teams in a contingent of 20 bowlers leaving next week to spend St. Patrick’s Day weekend bowling in Reno.
“It used to be a guys thing, but since the merger (the old ABC and the Women’s International Bowling Congress) and women were admitted, it’s turned into a family vacation, especially since it’s so far away,” Wangler said.
Wangler will bowl on one team, Cancer Can’t Kill Hope, with his sons Jim III and Patrick, his brother, Tim, and Justin Hart.
Team Hayden includes daughter, Kim, WNY Queens champion Kaylee Hart, niece Samantha Wangler, nephew Derek Wangler and Billy Wasielewski Jr.
Another Buffalo team that will make the trek includes Gary Preston, Zach Mangrum, Jeff Ward, Chris Gresham and Ed Malcolm. Last year they bowled in the Open under the guise of the Thruway Lanes Pro Shop.
Another team, Buffalo Bowling Association, includes Beth O’Brien, Paul Krupinski, Sean Albright, Ron Flatley and James Johnson.
The most successful Buffalo team a year ago was Meczynskis No. 1, with a lineup of Mike Dirmyer, Joe Burgio, Jeff Chambers, Ron Stacy and John Meczynski.
Teams from Niagara Falls, Lockport and the Tonawandas are annual competitors in the Open.
There already was a WNY presence on opening weekend with Southern Tier teams from Jamestown Bowling Company and Central Lanes in Olean. Opening weekend time slots are coveted and these teams have held on to these favored slots by loyal their participation over the year.
Jeremy Crist of Bemus Point sat in 13th place in singles (660) and 15th in all events (1,861) at the last accounting.
William Owens of Kill Buck and Paul Geiger of Hinsdale were tied for eighth in regular doubles with 1,209. Crist and Jeffery Wadsworth of Lakewood were tied for 34th with another Jamestown area pair, Bill Thompson and Larry Case Jr. at 1,137.
Of course there will be many changes in the standings between now and July. Last year the low-to-cash numbers were 2,608 (regular team), 1,076 (regular doubles), 550 (regular singles) and 1,711 (regular all-events).
USBC Hall of Famer Jimmy Schroeder is scheduled to bowl in his 65th Open on May 18.
Herbert, Hannon honored
Andrew Herbert of Eden and Melanie Hannon of Maryvale were the $250 scholarship winners for their high places in the Major Senior Open division of the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Youth Singles Championships.
Both were members of the Section VI All-Star team that competed last weekend in the State Public High Schools championships in Syracuse.
Herbert shot 695 in the Youth Singles event while Hannon posted 674.