There’s one more achievement that would cap Ryan Ciminelli’s 2015 season on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. That would be winning the Chris Schenkel Award as the PBA Player of the Year.
The Cheektowaga left-hander and Jason Belmonte, winner in 2013 and 2014, are the leading candidates for the honor, which will be determined by a vote of fellow pros and a media panel this month.
It’s something Ciminelli was aware of when he bowled for the PBA Viper championship that was shown on ESPN last Sunday. Ciminelli defeated Kim Bolleby of Thailand, 237-201, in the title match. Ciminelli’s third title of the year, including the U.S. Open championship, and a runner-up finish in the PBA World Championship put him firmly in contention for the Schenkel Award.
With his victories in the USBC Masters and Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions, Belmonte established himself as the early favorite to win a third straight Schenkel. That was before Ciminelli’s late-season run, two straight titles, runner-up to Gary Faulkner Jr. in the PBA World Championship and then the Viper title in the PBA World Series of Bowling VII.
If he wins the honor, Ciminelli would not only be the first male pro from Western New York to achieve the honor, he would join an exclusive club of the sport’s all-time greats. The first Player of the Year was Billy Hardwick in 1963. Since then the honor has gone to 29 different individuals. Walter Ray Williams Jr. won it seven times, the first in 1986 and most recently 2010. The great Earl Anthony won six times, with two three-year runs (1974-76 and 1981-83). Besides Belmonte, the most recent multiple winner was Mika Koivuniemi, who won in 2004 and 2011.
Dick Weber won it in 1965. Conspicuous by his absence from the list is Dick’s son Pete Weber, who is fourth on the all-time list with 37 titles won.
Ciminelli is a student of bowling history and was well aware of what might have been at stake in his semifinal victory over Faulkner and then Bolleby in the Viper.
“That was the hardest show I’ve ever been part of, knowing Player of the Year was on the line and I had to have this win,” Ciminelli told Bill Vint of PBA.com. “I knew I had another chance after the World Championship even though that one was heartbreaking. I felt like I bowled one of the best games of my life in that one, but this was do-or-die.
“My legs were Jell-O,” he added. “I was comfortable where I was playing the lane, but I was using a new ball and it didn’t feel quite right. I just kept it in play and fortunately (Bolleby) didn’t shoot a big game against me.
“I think three titles says a lot, with one of them being the U.S. Open. I think I had some votes before this one, but now I think I deserve it. It’s something I never thought I’d have a chance to win, so when you get the chance, you have to seize it. It could be 10 years before I ever have another chance.”
Ciminelli and Belmonte talked about each of their chances to win Player of the Year during the World Series of Bowling.
“He told me I would be deserving if I win, and I feel the same about him,” Ciminelli said. “I think he’s the best in the world, but if he doesn’t win again this year, he’ll probably win it again next year. I told him, ‘Hey, bro, I just want one.’ ”
Sunday’s televised PBA event on ESPN at 1 p.m. will be the finals of the PBA Chameleon Championship presented by HotelPlanner. The finals actually were bowled in early December. It was the first all-international final in PBA Tour history with England’s Stuart Williams versus Sweden’s Jesper Svensson and Germany’s Pascal Winternheimer versus Denmark’s Thomas Larsen in the semifinal round. The two winners will bowl for the Chameleon title.
USBC Hall adds two
Kim Adler of Melbourne, Fla., and Mike Durbin of Hollywood, Calif., were elected to the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in the Superior Performance category. They were among eight bowlers (six men and two women) on the national ballot in a vote of a USBC media panel, Hall of Famers and USBC board members. The induction ceremony will take place April 28 in Las Vegas as part of the USBC Convention.
Adler, 48, is a 16-time Professional Women’s Bowling Association winner. Her victories came between 1993 and 2003. She was the runner-up for PWBA Player of the Year in 1993 and earned her lone major victory at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1999. She also owns four PWBA regional titles. She won Classic All-Events in 2004 at the USBC Women’s Championships.
Durbin, 74, now lives in Texas. He was a dominant player on the PBA Tour in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, collecting 14 titles, including PBA Tournament of Champions wins in 1972, 1982 and 1984 to become the event’s first three-time winner. He won two events on the way to PBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1967 and was elected to the PBA Hall of Fame in 1984. He also owns six PBA regional titles. He was named to the No. 22 spot among the 50 greatest players in PBA history announced in 2009.
Durbin also won a Classic Team title at the USBC Open Championships (1969) and had a fourth-place finish at the USBC Masters in 1975.
Also on the Superior Performance ballot this year were David Ozio and Mark Williams, Beaumont, Texas; Randy Pedersen, Clermont, Fla.; Mike Scroggins, Amarillo, Texas, and Danny Wiseman, Baltimore. Tammy Turner of West Palm Beach, Fla., was the other player on the women’s ballot.
• The 2015-16 bowling season soon will enter the championship phase, with plenty of action scheduled locally.
The Section VI high school championships will be bowled at AMF Airport Lanes on Feb. 10-11. Section VI will be host for the New York State Public High School championship at Airport March 5-6. Section VI is defending champion in the girls sectional team competition while Section XI (Suffolk County, Long Island) is defending in boys sectional team play. The East Islip-XI boys and Fairport-V girls are the defending schools team champions.
The National Junior College Athletic Association tournaments will be at Airport on Feb. 26-27.
• Kevin Bienko of Kenmore and Chad Mee of Hamburg are among the male entrants in the USBC Team USA Trials that began Saturday in Las Vegas. Places on Team USA and Junior Team USA will be at stake in the trials. Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, and Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, Tenn., were the 2015 winners at the trials. John Szczerbinski of North Tonawanda was the male winner in 2013 and a semifinalist in 2014, losing to eventual runner-up Mike Fagan.