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Strength in numbers.

From here it looks like the five women's associations that have pooled their ideas to hold the first Western New York Queens Tournament have a sure-fire winner.

Circle the date: Sunday, Feb. 7, at Transit Lanes.

The Buffalo Women's Bowling Association will host the inaugural event and the Erie County Suburban WBA has agreed to host the tournament in 2000. Twin Cities, Niagara Falls and Dunkirk complete the nucleus of five associations with invitations being extended to at least six other groups.

"I'm always optimistic," said Joan Ast, who will be tournament director for the first event. "We started with the five associations and we've talked to a couple others. Because Queens entries are so low in each association we thought if we got together we could run a first-class tournament."

There will be three divisions: 190 average and over, 175-189 and 174 and under. The three winners will be queens.

"This (idea) goes back to when the WIBC Tournament was here (in 1996) but we were so busy with the WIBC we had to put this on the back burner. We started asking questions (of other associations) and now we're giving it a shot," Ast said.

The five core groups will not hold their own Queens events next year. "This would be our 25th Queens and some of our members didn't want to give it up," said Elaine Koszuta, president of the ECSWBA, "but we have to go with what is best in the long run and we think this is the way to go.

"The high average bowlers have always had a tournament but we have a lot of members (averaging) in the 160s and 170s who want to bowl in tournaments and they feel they can't compete with the 190 bowlers. Now we have something to fit all categories."

Twin Cities (Tonawandas) president Karen Baryza noted her association joined with Niagara Falls to run a Niagara Frontier Queens two years ago.

"We saw our (separate) entries diminishing, too, but we did have some success in increasing our numbers," Baryza said.

"We had 32 entries the first year and 38 in 1998. A majority of the increase was among the lower averages. By putting in more divisions you give more people a chance to compete against their peers.

"We've seen what the men's associations have done with the Tri-City Masters (Tonawandas, Lockport and Niagara Falls). That was a motivating factor."

Baryza said the combined event also simplifies things for members in multiple associations. "I was in four last year," she said.

The entry fee will be $35 for the higher average Division I, $30 for Division II and $25 for Division III. "We think the price is right," Ast said. "Some of our 190 average bowlers would pay $100 to bowl in a tournament like this."

First place will be a minimum of $250 with Transit Lanes and Red Dog Beer on board as initial sponsors with more sponsors to be sought.

"They're giving us a 10 a.m. starting time and (Transit's) Jack Dolan and Bob Bavisotto offered to give us the whole house (52 lanes)," Ast said. "They said they were happy to do whatever they could to help us and we are grateful."

Qualifying will be four games across eight lanes with the top five in each division advancing to the stepladder finals. Other associations to be invited are Medina, Jamestown, Olean, Salamanca, Genesee Valley and Wellsville.

Pete Russo Sr. celebrates 90th

Family and friends of Pete Russo Sr. are invited to an informal gathering Sunday to celebrate Russo's 90th birthday.

Russo, who bowled for Hamm's Beer in one of the area's first classic leagues in the late '30s, the Times Classic League, is credited with a 195 lifetime average and a league high of 212. His high sanctioned game was a 290 in the Southside Classic.

Before retiring as a competitive bowler in the late '60s, Russo won the city doubles title in 1955 with Ed Eisenberger and he won a singles tournament in the '50s in Chicago with a 204 average.

The second-born in a family of 11 children from Buffalo's legendary Canal Street, Russo teamed with his brother, Sam, to win a tournament for brothers in which they each bowled a 639. Another brother, the late Ange Russo, is a member of the Buffalo Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

Sunday's celebration will be in the Hamlin House Restaurant at Troop I American Legion Post, 432 Franklin St., starting at 2 p.m with a buffet at 3.

Brenda clinches Teen title

Mike Brenda clinched the championship of the Teen Classic's 12-week Summer Session with a 206-270-248-278 high qualifying block of 1,002. Brenda qualified for the finals eight times and won one weekly title in collecting the $275 winner's scholarship.

Chris Zammit earned the second-place $150 scholarship, qualifying for seven finals and winning twice. Scott Kwiatkowski won a $50 award for third place and also had the high series of 726. The weekly singles scratch competition bowls on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and new entries are welcome.

Around the lanes

The BBA Tournament Association's third event will be held Sunday at Sunset Lanes on Old French Road in Gardenville. Qualifying squads at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. will be followed by match game finals at 3 p.m. . . . The Amateur Bowlers Association rolls Sunday at Voelker's with five squads starting at 9 a.m. and finals at 4:30 p.m. . . . Gene Rutkowski's 701 led first-place Orchard Park over Kenmore, 23 1/2 -9 1/2 , in the BPA All Star league. Gary Kinyon's 681 helped Allie Brandt move up from fourth to second with a 22-11 win over Tonawanda. The league bowls today at 3 p.m. at Transit.

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