The PBA Tour stop at Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga is still five months away, but already there is activity leading up to the return of a major league pro tournament here after a long absence.
Tour bowler Joe Ciccone's Web site, bowlwny.com, and six establishments that are members of the site are organizing Pro-Am Leagues for adults and youths. The leagues will bowl a 20-week season starting the first week of October and running through the last week of February, when the Geico Championship is held here (Feb. 22-26).
Besides the competition, there are other benefits of the Pro-Am leagues. Participants will be automatically entered into the Pro-Am portion of the Geico Championship and will receive an all-day pass to watch the pros on any day of the tournament except for the Sunday televised finals.
"I thought it was a great way to get more people involved in the pro-ams and get more people interested in the tour stop when it comes," said Ciccone, one of Western New York's four exempt bowlers on the PBA Tour.
Transit Lanes in Williamsville, Leisureland in Hamburg, South Transit in Lockport, Town Edge in West Seneca, Tonawanda Bowling Center and the Jamestown Bowling Company are the establishments involved in the Pro-Am League program.
There are several options for Pro-Am bowlers. Junior leagues are being organized at Leisureland (Tuesdays, 5 p.m.) and Town Edge (Saturdays, 3 p.m.) and adult-child leagues at Town Edge (Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m.), Leisureland (Sundays, 11 a.m.), Tonawanda (Sundays, 5 p.m.), Transit (Sundays, 6 p.m.) and Jamestown (Sundays 6 p.m.).
Four-person team leagues are scheduled at Transit (Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m.).
Transit (Fridays, 9:30 p.m.) and South Transit (Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) will offer adult doubles leagues.
Entry forms are available at participating centers and entry forms and information can be obtained at www.bowlwny.com.
"I think it's going to be a success considering it's the first time and we're trying to build from scratch," Ciccone said. "I think it can generate some additional exposure for the tour and it's a chance for a lot of bowlers to get to bowl with the pros and watch the tournament. That's what we're trying to do."
Ciccone thinks the Geico will be a success for the tour.
"The PBA has been interested in coming to Buffalo for a couple of years because Buffalo is the highest-rated TV market for their telecasts, and they've been making more of an effort to go where they have the strongest fan base. Since we have four players on the tour in an area that already is pretty bowling crazy I expect it to be one of their biggest tournaments of the year as far as fans, crowd support and media attention."
This will be Ciccone's sixth full season on the PBA Tour. He was Rookie of the Year in 2000. He, along with veteran Tom Baker, Brad Angelo of Lockport and Jack Jurek of Lancaster, constitute the Western New York contingent on the tour.
Last year Ciccone ranked 26th in the point standings on the tour, earning a career-high $60,275. His best finish was a fourth in the PBA El Paso Classic, when he lost in the semifinals to Robert Smith, 268-247. In both of Ciccone's TV finals appearances, his opponents have shot 268. The former Erie Community College and Arizona State bowler averaged a career-best 217.65 in 2004-05.
Ciccone is tuning up for the tour schedule by bowling in PBA Regionals as well as local tournaments. He finished sixth in a regional in Lancaster, Ohio, last weekend after a first-place finish in Monroe, Mich., earlier this month.
"I bowled in quite a few regionals this summer and have two more before the season starts," he said. "I love being out on the tour. I can't wait. I really enjoy the competition.
"I'm going to drive the first half of the tour this year. My last regional will be in Bowling Green, Ohio, and I'm going to drive there and just keep on going to Tulsa for the first tour stop (Oct. 26-30)."
> Pin chasers
Kenmore Lanes jumped to fourth place in the BPA Buffalo Beverage Miller Lite All-Stars Traveling League with a 29-4 win over Alden. Third-place Broadway took advantage of its home surroundings in a team-high 3,196 series. South Transit leads the league with 129.5 points. Tonawanda Bowling Center is 6.5 points behind.
Brad Angelo was in seventh place Friday, the first of two days of round-robin match play, at the Dydo Japan Cup 2005 in Yokohama. He was 12-4 in his 16 matches with 3,711 total pinfall (including bonus pins). Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., was the leader with 3,896 (13-2-1). After Saturday's 16 games to complete the round-robin play, the top nine will advance to the finals, which will be held in the Tokyo Memorial Gymnasium.