Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga made the biggest news in Western New York bowling in 2005 with her breakthroughs on the main PBA Tour and her historic victory in a PBA Regional last March.
The Year of Liz, though, also is the Year of Jack Jurek's Comeback.
The 42-year-old Jurek returned to full-time status on the Denny's PBA Tour and finished the first half of the season with a fourth-place in the Empire State Classic in Clifton Park two weeks ago.
"It was definitely a good way to close out the first half," Jurek said.
Although he lost to Chris Collins, a non-exempt player who made it into the tournament via the qualifier, Jurek put on a strong performance in a 243-234 loss. He had the only open frame in the match, drawing the 4-7-10 split.
"He never gave me a chance," Jurek said. "I put the heat on him the best I could. For his first (TV) show he bowled pretty amazing."
Jurek was back at his Bowlers' Choice pro shop at Transit Lanes while the Tour took its two-week holiday. He came home with a little extra Christmas money. The $10,000 he earned for his finish in Clifton Park was his biggest payday on the tour since he got $25,000 for winning the 1995 stop in Windsor Locks, Conn. His last TV appearance was in 1998.
"In the back of my mind I was starting to wonder if I would ever be on another TV show," said Jurek, who now lives in Lancaster but lists his hometown as Lackawanna. "I prefer it that way -- Lackawanna is where I grew up and spent my whole time. At first I made the change (with the PBA) but it didn't look right to me. It (Lackawanna) seemed more natural."
In 2003-04, the last year he bowled anything close to a full-time Tour schedule, Jurek bowled in 14 events, collecting only $15,045. He didn't accumulate enough points to make the exempt list. As a result he bowled in only six events and earned just $4,980 in 2004-05.
Jurek earned his Denny's PBA Tour exemption by winning the 2004-05 PBA Central Region.
"It (winning the Regional) gave me the opportunity to be back out there again and having some success helps you get back any of the lost confidence you might have had," Jurek said.
With his exempt card, Jurek started 2005 with an 11th place in Tulsa, Okla., but did not reach match play after that until the Empire State. Despite his modest accomplishments, he was able to earn the $2,000 minimum as an exempt player for each Tour event he bowled.
"It's definitely made things easier knowing that if you had two or three bad weeks in a row, the guaranteed money would ease the pain a little bit," Jurek said of the new system.
Under the present Tour format the field of 64 bowlers goes through two seven-game qualifying rounds. The top 32 qualifiers then enter match-play, three rounds of best-of-seven matches, until the final four are determined for the TV finals. The old format was a round-robin among the top 24 qualifiers to determine five bowlers for a stepladder finals.
"I don't know if this format is better but it definitely heightens the excitement because it's more of a sudden-death scenario," he said.
Jurek is 24th on the current points list. Right now, the cutoff for 2006-07 tour exempt list will be 36th place.
Each of Western New York's four Tour regulars -- Jurek, Brad Angelo, Tom Baker and Joe Ciccone -- made it to a TV finals in the last four events before the break. They will try to extend the streak when action resumes at the Earl Anthony Medford Classic next week in Oregon.
Jurek has a dream scenario in mind for the PBA Geico Classic at AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga on Feb. 22.
"Thruway will be hopping, especially if all four of us make the final 32," Jurek said. "Maybe there will be five of us if Liz (Johnson) gets the Commissioner's exemption."
PBA Tour Commissioner Fred Schreyer can grant one exemption to each Tour event, an honor usually reserved for a local favorite who is not among the exempt players. It would a surprise if Schreyer's exemption does not go to Johnson, providing she doesn't win on the Tour between now and then.
* Bon Hutchinson, representing Springville Lanes, won a $500 scholarship after he overwhelmed his opponents with a score of 55 to win the junior division of the BPA of Western New York Miss the Headpin contest at Bowl Inn Center. His score included a 40-points for leaving the headpin standing alone.
* Cody Westfield won a $2,000 scholarship for winning adult division with a score of 31 in the finals. Mark Zengerski (Broadway) and Brad Maniccia (Broadway) shared runner-up honors with 29.
* The eighth annual Western New York Queens Tournament will be held Jan. 29 at Thruway Lanes. Qualifying will be at noon with the finals to follow. There will be three divisions: 200 average and over, 180-199 average and 179 and under. To enter, call Jean Luber at 549-4433.