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Bowling’s ‘Beat the Champ’ strikes again

By Milt Northrop


Soon after Van Miller, the former voice of the Bills and Buffalo Braves, died in July, it was suggested that his contributions to bowling in Western New York also were noteworthy and should be a column subject. The idea came when this column was on summer hiatus but was filed away for future reference. Well, now is an appropriate time to bring it up.

Van, and before him Chuck Healy, were hosts of the popular “Beat the Champ” weekly bowling show on Channel 4. The show left the air about 20 years ago after a long run.

Well, “Beat the Champ” is back with former Channel 4 sports staffer Paul Peck making the calls, as Chuck and Van once did when the show was a much talked-about event in WNY bowling. For example, veteran fans still recall Nin Angelo’s long run on Beat the Champ nearly 50 years ago.

“Beat the Champ” will be resurrected on WBBZ weekly, beginning at 4 p.m. Jan. 9. The show will be re-aired the next day at 11 a.m. Taping of a month’s worth of shows, four, is already in the can. Taping was completed this week at Rapids Lanes in Niagara Falls.

Rapids is one of the Western New York bowling establishments putting up $6,000 each to get the venture rolling. The others are Kerns Avenue Lanes in Buffalo, Transit, Classic, Manor, Allie Brandt, Tonawanda, Manor II, Lucky Strike in Fredonia, Jamestown Bowling Company and Mancuso Lanes in Batavia.

Jim Russo of Manor Lanes, who is a past president of the New York State Bowling Proprietors Association, and Brian Borowski, owner of Classic and Allie Brandt, were two of the driving forces in the effort.

“We’ve been working on it for the last year,” Russo said. “We felt it was important to get bowling on local TV and raise interest in the sport.”

The idea was broached to another local TV outlet but it was not feasible.

“Then, we talked to WBBZ and they came up with a proposal we could live with and get us over the financial hump,” Russo said.

“After watching the taping of the first shows this week I was impressed that it will be a first-class production.”

Nine bowlers will be determined for each month’s shows in qualifiers scheduled by the host lanes for that month. Indications are there will be healthy interest.

“Rapids planned for around 80 bowlers, they got 114,” Russo said.

Qualifying events will be held on weekends. Entrants will pay $30 to enter with the top 24 bowling again to determine the nine bowlers for the next month’s shows. The fourth show each month will be events of special interest. For example, the Jan. 30 show will feature four pro shop proprietors who happen to be accomplished bowlers − Doug Heim of International Bowling Store, Mike Mallwitz of Island Lanes, Jeff Walsh representing Bowlers Choice Pro Shop and Eric Johns, representing Rapids. Future special-interest shows will involve local male and female pros and adult-youth bowlers and some other ideas.

The “Beat the Champ” tapings will be scheduled on weekdays, because of production considerations. Greater Buffalo USBC Association Hall-of-Famer Sue Nawojski will supply the expert commentary on the televised matches.

Brian Digati of Grand Island led the qualifying at Rapids and defended his “title” in the opener of the three one-game matches on the first show. The winner of each match will earn $100, the loser $50.

The competition will be on a modified house oil pattern.

“Scores are generally high at Rapids; we had some good scores,” Russo said.

The next round of matches will be at the Kerns Avenue (the former Ideal Lanes) on Buffalo’s East Side. Kerns Avenue has scheduled qualifying squads at 7 p.m. Jan. 16, and noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Jan. 17, and 7 p.m. on Jan. 19. Although there is no advance registration, Kerns Avenue obviously is anticipating considerable interest.

The commitment of the participating establishments guarantees 12 months worth of shows.

Chuck Healy and Uncle Van would have been proud.

Ciminelli holds lead

Left-hander Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga averaged 233.8 Wednesday to lead qualifying in the Professional Bowlers Association’s Viper Championship, presented by Xtra Frame, at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev. The event is part of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII.

Ciminelli, who is trying to become the PBA’s first three-time title winner in 2015, rolled games of 190, 279, 224, 217, 245, 257, 247, 225 and 221 to pace the field of 246 through nine games. In October, Ciminelli won the PBA Xtra Frame Las Vegas Open for his third PBA Tour title and he then won his first major title in early November in the Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open.

“I made about four ball changes that first (190) game,” Ciminelli said Wednesday. “I had a plan, but the lane condition wasn’t allowing me to do what I wanted. Then I picked up the magic ball and that was pretty much it. I could do what I wanted.

“The condition was similar to the modified Viper pattern I won on in Las Vegas in October, so I was able to come in with the same game plan, same equipment, same philosophy and it worked. I was a little worried about this condition in practice, but once I picked up the right ball, that was it.”

The Viper is the second of four qualifying legs leading into the PBA World Championship. It also is the second of five PBA Tour title events that are part of the 14-day World Series. The 24 top qualifiers in the Viper advanced to the best-of-five elimination match play rounds next Monday.

Sam Cooley of Australia averaged 252 for nine games to lead the qualifying for the PBA Cheetah Championship on Tuesday. Buffalo native Tom Baker was tied for 11th and John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda is 22nd. The top 24 will move on to elimination matches.

Then on Thursday, Ciminelli qualified 20th to advance to match play in the Chameleon Championship. That put him in fifth place in the overall standings and left him in good position to advance to Saturday’s cashers round of 61. Baker also was in the top 61 entering Friday’s final animal pattern qualifier, the Scorpion. Brad Angelo of Lockport was just under the cut line.

Liz third in Worlds

Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga stood third in All-Events with 4,153 pins in the 2015 World Bowling Women’s Championships in Abu Dhabi. Left-hander Cherie Tan of Singapore leads with 4,174 (213.89 average). The Team USA Doubles team of Kelly Kulick of Union, N.J., and Danielle McEwan of Stony Point won the Doubles championship.

Johnson, who was sixth, was the top Team USA finisher in Singles with 1,354 (225.67 average). She teamed with Shannon Pluhowsky and Kulick to qualify fourth in Trio. They were eliminated in one semifinal match, 627-626, by Hyerin Son, Jinsum Kim and Seungja Baek of South Korea, who went on to win the Trio championship.

Through 18 games this week, left-hander Tan of Singapore leads all-events with a 4,174 pinfall total, a 231.89 average.

The team competition will be Saturday and the Masters event on Sunday.