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Bowling / By Milt Northrop: Johnson joins all-time greats

Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga made more bowling history this week with the announcement that she has been elected to the USBC Hall of Fame.

Johnson, the first woman ever to advance to two PBA Tour national television finals, is a former USBC Women’s Open and USBC Queens champion and several times has competed internationally as a member of TeamUSA.

The Niagara Falls native began her professional career as Rookie of the Year on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour in 1996. That year she won the first of her three U.S Women’s Open titles.

She became the first woman to make a PBA telecast (2005 PBA Banquet Open) and later became the first woman to win a PBA regional title.

The 10-time Team USA member owns 16 professional titles, including five majors - the U.S. Women’s Open in 1996, 2007 and 2013, Hammer Players Championships in 2001 and the USBC Queens in 2009.

Her resume also includes three wins at the USBC Women’s Championships and more than two dozen medals in international competition.

Also elected was PBA Hall of Famer Larry Laub, a 12-time PBA Tour title winner from Lincoln, Calif. His titles include the 1978 Greater Buffalo Open at Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga.

Johnson, Laub and three other inductees announced earlier will be enshrined during the USBC Convention on April 29 in Omaha, Neb.


With the new year nearly here, it’s a good time to look back at what 2014 brought the world of bowling.

Taking it month-by-month:

January: John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda earned a place on Team USA by finishing third in the team trials. Liz Johnson made the women’s team. ... Brad Angelo returned to the PBA Tour after being sidelined for more than a year with wrist and hand problems and finished 27th in the PBA Tournament of Champions, one place behind Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, who was 26th.

February: Tony Dolan shot 300-289-278-867 at Broadway Sports Center for the seventh-highest three-game series in Greater Buffalo USBC Association history. He went on to bowl three more 800 series before the end of the 2013-14 season. ... Mike Firzak topped Mike Hanes to win the Tri-City Masters held at Bowl-o-Drome in Niagara Falls. ... Julie Selk won the Division I title in the Western New York Queens Tournament. Ashley Szpara took the crown in Division 2 and Sara Snyder in Division 3. ... Matt Kinn, a junior at Frontier High, won the GBUSBC Youth Singles championship with a 724 series.

March: The Erie Community College team won the school’s 28th National Junior College Athletic Association women’s title at AMF Thruway Lanes. Gabrielle Damin (Clarence) won NJCAA All-Events with 2318 and teamed with Elizabeth Szpara (Orchard Park) to take the doubles. ... Led by Chad Mee’s 1,346, the Frontier boys won the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association school team title by a whopping 336 pins. ... Former GBUSBCA president Nancy Walczyk of Boston was named to receive the Helen Baker Award for distinguished service by the United States Bowling Congress.

April: The 2014 GBUSBC class was announced for enshrinement in November. The honorees include: Kevin Iwaniak, Dave Guindon, Butch Benhatzel, Sue Nawojski, Kay Jeziorski and Lauie Sutton for outstanding ability, and Frank Coburn, Dave Miller and Jackie Jensen for meritorious service. ... Freshman Melanie Hannon (Maryvale) helped Fairleigh Dickinson University earn one of the eight team berths in the NCAA Women’s Bowling championship. Hannon was named North East Conference Rookie of the year. ... Bill Truman bowled a 300-837 in the Senior Shootout at Transit Lanes, approaching the 855 he shot in 2000 at Broadway. ... Liz Johnson was top qualifier and finished as the runner-up in the New York State Queens Tournament.

May: Mike Zarcone, honored several times as GBUSBC Male Bowler of the Year, won his first George A. Obenauer Masters championship. He defeated the No. 1 qualifier, Frank Bellavia of Niagara Falls, 593-544, in the championship match at AMF Airport Lanes. ... Brian Cline shot 768 to overtake Dan Antkowiak and win the All-Events title by 34 pins in the GBUSBC City Tournament.

June: Kaylee Sondel and Kimberly Klinger received the $1,000 scholarships awarded by the Bowling Proprietors Association of Western New York at the 60th annual youth championship awards dinner.

July: Thousands of young bowlers came to Buffalo as the city hosted the USBC Junior Golf and Youth Open championships for the second time. Tylor Greene of Davidson, Mich., and Breanna Clemmer of Clover, S.C., won the U20 Division Junior Gold titles. Melanie Hannon of Cheektowaga averaged 206.55 for 20 games to qualify third but was eliminated in the first round of match play in the girls U20. Maddie Jensen of Orchard Park finished 20th in the U15 division.

August: Jack Jurek of Lackawanna won his first PBA50 Tour title, defeating Randy Pedersen in the title match of the South Shore Open in Hammond, Ind. ... Mike Zarcone (men), Danielle Dolegala (women) and Curtis Evans (handicap) were winners in the GBUSBC Kickoff Tournament at AMF Thruway Lanes. Zarcone (male), Julie Selk (female) and Dana Voytovich (boys youth) received Bowler of the Year awards while Marisa Moon and Haley Carroll shared the girls’ youth award.

November: Brad Angelo and Liz Johnson advanced to the television finals of the PBA Cheetah Championship, part of the PBA World Series of Bowling in Las Vegas. Both were eliminated in the shootout match won by Anthony Pepe of Elmhurst, L.I., with a 295. Pepe advanced to defeat top qualifier Dick Allen of Columbia, S.C., 224-206, in the title match.

December: The local bowling community was rocked when the planned closing of AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga became public. The popular Walden Avenue facility has been the venue for most of the major local and state championships as well as the National Junior College, USBC and PBA Tour events.