The biggest bowling event annually in Western New York, except for those years when the PBA Tour or a national or state tournament comes to the area, is the George A. Obenauer Masters Tournament.
It's six days of topflight competition and surprises, and draws many of the best bowlers this area has to offer.
The 49th version of the Obenauer will begin with qualifying next Tuesday and Wednesday at Transit Lanes in Williamsville.
A field of 123 -- most since 2003 -- is entered and includes eight former champions. Former winners entered include PBA Tour pros Brad Angelo (1994, 2001, 2003), Joe Ciccone (2000, 2008) and Jack Jurek (1999). Other former champions entered are Mike Hanes (1979, 1985 and 2005), Joe Jack (1979), John Meczynski (1997), Dan Patterson (2006) and Tony Verdi (1972).
A noticeable absentee is Ryan Ciminelli, who two years ago became the first top qualifier to win the event. Then last season, Ciminelli became only the second bowler to win back-to-back titles, when he defeated Tom Sorce in the title match at Strikers. Before Ciminelli, only Mike Neumann had won two Obies in a row. Neumann did it twice (1988 and '89 and 1995 and '96).
Liz Johnson, the only woman to win the Obenauer (2008), is not entered this year but there are five female entrants -- Sue Jeziorski, Michelle Sterner, Marion Singleton, Julie Selk and Kimberly Wangler.
The Obenauer is beginning to attract some younger bowlers who were recent standouts in local scholastic and collegiate bowling -- names such as Brandon Simone, David Zajac, Ted Chojecki, Kevin Alajko, and Chris Geschwender.
Some veteran campaigners are entered too, including former Obenauer runners-up Fran Bax, Ray Bellet, Gary Kinyon, Carl Kinyon and Frank Cascio. Left-hander Bob Rudnick, holder of the WNY record for high series, an 888 bowled in 2005, is also in the field.
John Szczerbinski, last year's winner of the Pete Parisi award as the top qualifier, is entered. Szczerbinski totaled 1,751 for eight games of qualifying last year to grab the top seed for match play. Ciccone set the qualifying record in 2009 when he totaled 1,975, an average of 247.8. In 2010, Ciminelli qualified with 1,966.
It's not likely that the top qualifier will total more than 1,900 this year because the sponsoring Greater Buffalo USBC Association will have Transit put out that USBC Open oil pattern being used in the national tournament in Baton Rouge, La.
A more difficult pattern probably is the main reason tournament scores were lower last season.
Each entrant will bowl four games each on Tuesday and Wednesday with two shifts each night (6:30 and 9 p.m.). The top 32 will move on to double-elimination match play, which will begin Thursday night and continue Friday night and Saturday night, with the finals Sunday afternoon. The championship match will start around 4 p.m.
The match play format is total pinfall for three games.
Prior to the tournament, Obenauer entrants will have the opportunity to practice on the USBC Open oil pattern. Those interested should call Transit Lanes (632-3838) for times when those lanes will be available.
Liz wins for USA
Liz Johnson added another achievement to her career this week when she won the women singles gold medal Thursday at the Pan American Bowling Conference Champion of Champions tournament in Lake Wales, Fla.
The Cheektowaga bowler finished with a 12-game total of 2,809 (234 average) at the Kegel Training Center. She shot 278, 280 and 244 in her final three games to pull away from the field.
"It always feels great to win the gold medal for your country," Johnson said. "Those last three games I made a ball change, got in the right part of the lane and had amazing ball reaction. It all just came together at the right time."
Paola Gomez of Colombia took the silver medal with 2,673.
Marcelo Suartz of Brazil won the men's gold medal with a 2,928. Steve Smith of San Diego was the top U.S. finisher among the men, he was sixth with 2,651.
Suartz was part of the Webber International University team that won the men's title at the USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships last month.
The top eight men and top eight women in all-events will bowl in the individual match-play Masters on Sunday.
GBUSBC events ending
The GBUSBC Open and Women's tournaments wind up this afternoon at AMF Thruway Lanes. Association manager Bill Palumbo notes that participation in the City Tournament is the highest since 1985.
"Scores aren't high because it's a tough [oil] pattern," Palumbo noted.