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Erie's Learn making final tour stop

"That kid wasn't even born when I used to bowl against his father [Ange Ciminelli] on the old 'Beat the Champ' shows here in the '70s," said Bob Learn Jr. of Erie, Pa.

Learn was speaking of young Ryan Ciminelli, the 19-year-old amateur who qualified seventh Thursday in the GEICO Classic at AMF Thruway Lanes.

Before he went on the PBA Tour full time, Learn used to make the 90-mile trek from Erie to bowl in Buffalo tournaments and TV shows.

It seems fitting, then, that the GEICO Classic is probably Learn's last Denny's PBA Tour regular event.

Learn, who joined the tour in 1981, is a real bowling trouper. Although he's a non-exempt pro, he's traveled to all 16 of the tour stops this season. Except for the Keystone State Open, for which he received the Commissioner's Exemption, Learn had no guarantee he would cash as he tried to gain tournament entry via the tour qualifier rounds. This week was only the seventh time he made it.

"I've had a lot of close calls," said Learn, who Thursday qualified for match play for the first time this season.

After bowling on the edge all season, Learn said he was able to relax here because he now has a job that will pay regularly. Next week, he will take a position working in proprietor relations for the United States Bowling Congress.

"That loosened me up, and I was able to relax a bit," Learn said after he finished second to Ryan Ciminelli in Wednesday's qualifier. "I was able to clear my head."

Once he qualified, Learn jumped in his car for the drive back to his home in Harborcreek, Pa., to pick up his wife so she could watch him bowl in his final tour event.

"I'll still bowl in some majors, but with my job I won't go out on the road anymore, trying to qualify each week," said Learn, who lost in the round of 16 Friday.

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Electronic pain

Cell phones. They are a hazard Billy Welu, Dick Weber, Don Carter or even Earl Anthony never had to deal with in their days as pro bowlers.

Friday morning, Ryan Ciminelli was making his approach in the eighth frame of his seven-game match against Dale Traber. Suddenly, a cell phone went off in the crowd. Ciminelli heard it and aborted his approach. He had to gather himself and reload, but he ended up leaving an 8-pin when he was in need of a strike. It could have been a costly interruption, but Ciminelli collected his thoughts and struck on his next three balls to pull out the match.

Before the start of bowling each day at Thruway, spectators are asked to turn off their cell phone ringers. Most do. Others, perhaps, did not get the message.

Cell phones, text messages and camera phones are instruments of this new electronic age that the pros did not have to deal with when the PBA Tour last visited in 1991.

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Pin chasers

The public is invited for the taping of the Denny's PBA Tour Skills Challenge at Thruway on Sunday after the championship finals of the GEICO Classic. The taping for future ESPN PBA shows will begin at approximately 2:45 p.m., and admission is free. Chris Barnes, Norm Duke, Mike Machuga and Tony Reyes will be the participants in the Challenge.

Joe Mercurio Jr. of the Tonawandas Association is the Tri-City Masters champion after his victory over Scott Koker (Niagara Falls) in the two-game championship match, 463-462. Mercurio Jr., Koker and Doug Janda, the top finisher from the Lockport Association, earned $300 plus a paid entry into the New York State Masters. Association runners-up who also earned State Masters entry were: Carl Kinyon (Lockport), Mike Mucciaccio (Tonawandas) and John Hayes (Niagara Falls).

Tonawanda Bowling Center has a seven-point lead over second-place Spare Time in the BPA Buffalo Beverage Miller Lite All-Stars travel league going into today's position round at Kenmore Lanes, starting at 2 p.m.

A 771 series (278-246-247) by youth bowler Gina Maduri led Broadway Sports Center to victory in Sunday's All-Stars/Youth Challenge matches at Tonawanda.

The inaugural Tonawanda Bowling Center Classic with a first-place prize of $2,000 will be held March 5. Squad times are noon and 2 p.m.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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