You could call Jimmy Schroeder “Mr. Bowling” in Buffalo. He’s been a historic figure on the local scene for nearly 70 years. Among his gifts to the sport is one that keeps on giving. That’s his devotion to the athletes who compete in a two-day tournament, the Special Olympics Unified Tournament, which has become a traditional start to the sports’s national championship, the USBC Open, which opened Saturday at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.
Considering all his accomplishments, it’s perhaps the one Schroeder should be most proud of. The National Unified Tournament has been part of opening week at the USBC Open since 1991 in Toledo, Ohio. It gives Special Olympics athletes “the same competitive experience Open Championships bowlers have enjoyed for more than 100 years,” the USBC proudly proclaims.
Each year, Schroeder travels to the opening of the USBC to assist in the Special Olympics portion of the Open, hand out awards and encourage the competitors.
Schroeder played an integral role allowing the Special Olympics competition to share the stage with the Open. He himself has competed in 67 Opens since his first in 1959. He earned one “Eagle” for winning the 1976 Classic Singles. He stands third on the all-time pinfall list with 117,737. His overall average is 189.29, which stands 25th among the bowlers who have competed in 50 or more Opens.
“I was asked if I could put together a national tournament,” said Schroeder. “I made an appointment with what was then the American Bowling Congress in Milwaukee, and they really liked my presentation. And, here we are.
“We have a ball working with them, and they love this. The USBC has been a godsend for what they have done for these bowlers and athletes.”
Schroeder is not the only Buffalo connection with the national tournament, which was formerly known as the American Bowling Congress. The first was held in Chicago in 1901 and drew a field of 41 teams. The second was in Buffalo in 1902 and the Queen City has been the host seven times, the last in 1963 at the Connecticut Street Armory. Twice since then, the national tournament was held at the former Niagara Falls Convention Center (1983 and 1987). The 2018 tournament is scheduled for Syracuse.
Of all the venues, Reno has proved to be the most popular, judging by team participation for the “Biggest Little City in the World,” as it calls itself. At least 40,000 bowlers are expected to participate this season.
Buffalo has had its share of champions at the Open. Most recent was John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda, who won the Regular All-Events title in 2013. Among past all-events winners from Buffalo is Mike Neumann. It was one of four titles Neumann was part of in 1990, tying a record shared with the great Ed Lubanski of Detroit and Schroeder’s buddy, Bill Lillard of Houston.
Neumann teamed with Bob Ujvari to win the regular doubles that year and was a member of the Buffalo Rhinos who won the team and the team all-events titles.
Other all-events champions from Buffalo were: Fred Fischer in 1940, Clarence Long in 1925 and Jimmy Smith in 1911.
The last regular team champion from Buffalo was the 1999 Zawadzki Jewelers with Ron Stacy, Rich Tomaka, Shaun Sterner, Stan Cielepak and John Meczynski. Buffalo teams won in 1935 (Wolfe Tire Service) and 1925 (Weisser Blue Ribbons). In 1975, the Bisons Sausage team from Buffalo, which included Art Jeziorski, Bud Schwabl and Ron Chader, won the team all-events title.
Buffalo women bowlers have made history at the Open, too. Liz Johnson’s 2,117 all-events score is the third highest for a woman in the tournament. Janette Piesczynski in 2006 bowled one of the 10 300 games recorded by a woman in the event.
The USBC Open will run for 129 consecutive days until July 10.
Waiting in line
John Palmer, a 41-year-old left-hander from Cheektowaga, puts it on the line against former Obenauer Masters champion Mike Zarcone in the first match Saturday on the Beat the Champ show (4 p.m., WBBZ-TV). Zarcone, 40, is a six-time Greater Buffalo USBC Association bowler of the year.
Next in line to challenge Saturday are Matt Zasowski of Tonawanda and Tony Dolan of West Seneca, the reigning Obenauer Masters champion and a four-time Beat the Champ winner.
It’s the first of the March shows from Transit Lanes in Williamsville that were taped in February.
There’s still time to enter the qualifier for the April Beat the Champ shows. The next qualifying rounds are scheduled for Saturday, March 12 (3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.) and Sunday, March 13 (noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.) at Lucky Lanes in Fredonia. The Top 24 Roll-Off will be at 7 p.m. on March 13 at Lucky Lanes.
The taping of the matches for April will be at 10 a.m. on March 23 at Lucky Lanes.
Qualifiers for the “High School Challenge” edition of Beat the Champ will be at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday and at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on March 20 at the Fredonia venue.