Tom Harnisch, who struck out for bowling fame and fortune as a teenager and became a charter member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and five others will be in the newest class of inductees to the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Hall of Fame.
Harnisch, 73, joins former PBA Rookie of the Year Brad Kiszewski of West Seneca and women's standouts Debbie (Iwaniak) Janora and Sally Nelsen in the Bowling Performance category. Long-time local competitor Tony Sorrento was elected in the Veterans Category, and retired News bowling columnist Norm Warner was elected for Meritorious Service.
The Class of 2012 will be inducted at Samuel's Grande Manor on Nov. 24.
The election of Harnisch, a huge figure on the Buffalo bowling scene 50 or so years ago, would seem long overdue. He was the first Buffalo bowler to win a PBA title, when he won the Bertrand Open in Waukegan, Ill. in 1965. He also teamed with Dave Soutar to defeat Dick Weber and Ray Bluth in the BPAA National Match-Game Doubles championship in 1965. He is deeply connected with some of the sport's biggest names of the 1950s and '60s.
Harnisch grew up in Riverside and began setting pins as a 10-year-old. When he was only 15 he bowled for the Lockport Felts team, captained by the legendary Allie Brandt. When team bowling was in its heyday, Harnisch lined up on national powerhouse professional teams, the Detroit Thunderbirds and Detroit Strohs, with greats such as Bill Golembiewski, Eddie Lubanski, Joe Fazio, Bob Strampe and Jimmy Schroeder.
Harnisch and the Thunderbirds won the only championship of the National Bowling League, a short-lived 10-team circuit that operated in the 1961-62 season. Detroit claimed the title with a three-game sweep of the Twin Cities Skippers.
Harnisch had left the Iroquois Classic team of Buffalo to join the famed Stroh's team based in Detroit.
"We were the best in the world. We could beat Falstaffs, Budweisers any day of the week," Harnisch said. "We had Bob Strampe, George Howard, Bob Crawford, Jimmy Schroeder, Tom Harnisch, and Tony Lindeman was our captain. We were all good. I mean, we were really good. Everybody knew they couldn't beat us. Budweiser had Dick Weber, Ray Bluth, Don Carter, Whitey Harris and Pat Patterson, and Falstaffs had Harry Smith, Glen Allison, Billy Welu and Buzz Fazio.
"It was just a wonderful part of my life, the part I'm most proud of."
Harnisch calls blowing a 20- or 30-pin lead and losing to Dave Davis in the final round of the 1966 Firestone Tournament of Champions as his most heartbreaking defeat in bowling. Wayne Zahn, whom Harnisch had defeated in the round-robin final went on to take the title.
The strapping, handsome Harnisch was perhaps the most recognizable bowling figure in Buffalo during the 50s and 60s. He he appeared often on Beat the Champ style television shows, wrote a bowling tips column for the Courier-Express, was a representative for Simon Beer and Brunswick, played exhibitions, gave clinics and visited Veterans Administration hospitals.
Harnisch became the eighth member of the PBA in 1958 when he signed up with founder Eddie Elias in Rochester. He was 19 at the time. Harnisch bowled on the PBA Tour until 1978. He moved to Las Vegas, where he now lives, in 1979. He worked as a poker dealer at several casinos there before he retired 12 years ago.
Locally he was the runner-up in 1970 and third in 1966 in the Obenauer Masters. Besides Lockport (1954-57), Simon Pures (1958) and Iroquois (1958-59) he also bowled with the powerful M&T team (1964-66) and the Jimmy Schroeder Pro Shop aggregation which won the American Bowling Congress Classic Team championship in 1970-71.
Kiszewski, 47, bowled at Erie Community College and Wichita State before joining the PBA Tour in 1990 when he won the Harry Golden Rookie of the Year Award. He led the all rookies with a 211.04 average that year. He left the PBA Tour in 1994 to concentrate on business as the then part-owner with Jack Jurek of the pro shop at Transit Lanes.
He bowled on two ABC Team All-Events championship teams and won the Super High Roller in Las Vegas in 2002 and the Super Hoinke in Cincinnati in 2001. At ECC he was NJCAA Tournament all-events, singles and doubles champion and helped Wichita State to second and third-place finishes in the national championships.
Locally, he teamed with Jurek to win the 1994 City Tournament doubles title and was high qualifier in the 2003 Obenauer Masters.
Sorrento, a retired math teacher, won the handicap all events, was second in scratch all-events and was second in singles for both in the 1961 City Tournament. As recently as 2005, he and Bill Lang, as a pair of 75-year-olds, won the doubles championship of the Tonawandas Bowling Association.
Also, he captured the title of the Tops TV Challenge in 1989 and Western New York Seniors Masters singles in 1996. In 1976-77, he bowled a 795 series which was the high set for that season. In 1964 he won the Utica Club New York State Championship sweeping three games in a TV final.
Janora is a former Buffalo Women's Bowling Association Queens champion (1987) and twice was Erie County Suburban Women's Bowling Association Bowler of the Year (2000-01). In 1990 she was inducted into the Canisius College Athletics Hall of Fame for bowling, basketball and volleyball. A collegiate champion, she represented the U.S. in the World Cup in Manila in 1975 and finished ninth.
She teamed with Kathy Geissler for a 1,529 at Ideal Lanes, the fourth best doubles scored in the Women's International Bowling Congress for 2004-05.
Nelsen, who now lives in Davenport, Fla., won the 1978 BWBA Queens title. With Doris Coburn, Cindy Coburn-Carroll, Billie Pepperday and Mary Grace Williamson she won the New York State team title in 1991. In 1995 she teamed with Julie Cascio to win the doubles at the state women's tournament.
Warner became bowling columnist for The News and stayed on even after his retirement as a full-time employee in 2001. He stopped writing and covering the sport for The News when he moved to Florida for winters in 2004.
The Greater Buffalo USBC Association has extended the entry deadline to April 18 for the City Open Tournament and to April 20 for the Stan Kowalski Senior Singles Championship.
The City Open and Women's Championships will be held May 1-12 at AMF Thruway Lanes. The Kowalski Seniors will be bowled April 28-29 at Broadway Sports Center.