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Sport growing for amateurs, not pros

With the turn of the calendar at midnight, it's a good time to take a glimpse back at the past year in bowling. It was a year of mixed news.

On the one hand, those in the industry are heartened by growing interest in the sport -- on a recreational and competitive basis -- by youth and young adults. On the other, the future of the sport on a national professional level does not seem bright.

More and more high schools are fielding varsity teams and the number of two- and four-year colleges adding bowling to their sports lineup continues to increase.

Sadly, the PBA Tour seems a skeleton of what it once was and pessimists fear it will die except for a few major events.

Competition on the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour began in October with the PBA World Series of Bowling, which was more of a series of studio shows from Las Vegas that were taped for showing several weeks later.

One of the events taped in Las Vegas in early November remains on the TV schedule. That's the USA versus The World event, which will be aired Jan. 9.

After that, most of the televised shows will be live competition, thankfully. It starts with the World Series of Bowling World Championship, Jan. 14-16 on ESPN. It will feature the top eight qualifiers competing over three days with $50,000 going to the winner. The qualifiers were determined during the WSOB events in October and November.

Aside from the $50,000 for the World Championship winner and a big payout for the Tournament of Champions winner to be aired on ABC-TV on Jan. 22, prize funds for PBA Tour events are not as large as they have been in recent years and they are nothing close to what's available on the pro golf or pro tennis tours, for example. It's a trend that threatens to keep all but a few from making a paying career out of bowling.

From now until the end of the PBA Tour schedule (the new Dick Weber PBA Playoffs), there are only two standard tour events, the Earl Anthony Memorial Classic later this month and the GEICO Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship at AMF Thruway Lanes, March 2-6. Besides the Dick Weber, two other majors in February -- the Bayer USBC Masters and the Lumber Liquidators U.S. Open -- highlight the rest of the schedule.

Some are alarmed that the PBA Tour has virtually abandoned its Rust Belt roots with no tournaments in Chicago, St. Louis, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, not to mention Sun Belt locations such as Florida and Texas. It's not a glowing picture, but it won't change until sponsorship interest returns.

On the Western New York scene, enthusiastic and inventive leadership keeps the local associations plugging along. It's not a golden age, but the sport is holding its own in Greater Buffalo, the Tonawandas, Lockport and Niagara Falls.

The year 2010 had its local stars.

Ryan Ciminelli, 23, won the George A. Obenauer Masters, the first top qualifier to do so. Ciminelli also earned an exemption to what is left of the PBA Tour, joining Jack Jurek, Joe Ciccone and Brad Angelo as tour regulars.

Liz Johnson continued to make her mark as one of the top female bowling stars in the world. She became the first women to win the Peterson Classic in Chicago, taking the 100th edition of the popular tournament with a 1,651 total. She also won all-events in the Pan American Bowling Confederation championship for women. Johnson also was the top qualifier and runner-up to Kelly Kulick in what may have been the last U.S. Women's Open for the foreseeable future.

Johnson, Sue Jeziorski, Sue Nawojski, Michelle Sterner and Nikki Lunsford of Illinois teamed to win the scratch team and Diamond Division team titles at the USBC Women's Championship in El Paso, Texas. In April they bowled a 3,424 scratch series (3,436 with handicap), highest in the history of the championship, then had to wait to see if it would stand until the tournament ended in early July.

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USBC Hall elects three

Del Ballard, Wayne Webb and Australian Carol Gianotti were elected to the USBC Hall of Fame in the Superior Performance Category, it was announced this week.

Ballard won 13 PBA Tour titles between 1987 and '93, including the USBC Masters in 1988 and the Firestone Tournament of Champions in 1989. Webb won 20 PBA Tour titles between 1978 and '97, including one Tournament of Champions (1989), and has been a dominant bowler on the PBA Senior Tour.

Gianotti, who now makes her home in Henderson, Nev., won 16 Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour/Professional Women's Bowling Association titles from 1989 to 2000 and has been a member of three title-winning teams in USBC Women's Championships. In the 2010 Women's Championship, Gianotti paired with Missy Klug to win scratch doubles with a 1,431 total. Gianotti shot 770 to lead the team.

The three will join Jeff Richgels (outstanding USBC performance), Roseann Kuhn (meritorious service) and Cheryl Robinson (veterans) for the 2011 class enshrinement on July 1 at Gaylord Texas Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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