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Milt Northrop’s Bowling: Oil up the alleys, it’s time for ‘Beat the Champ’

It would be fun to turn back the clock and the calendar if it were possible.

Local bowling proprietors and WBBZ-TV are giving it a try Saturday with the revival of the “Beat the Champ” bowling show. The shows will be telecast at 4 p.m. each Saturday, with encore presentations at 11 p.m. on Sunday.

Bowling on television was most popular during the sport’s golden era, the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, the PBA was a Saturday afternoon staple on ABC-TV with the broadcast team of Chris Schenkel and Nelson Burton Jr. They were together for 23 years until they signed off for the last time in 1997. NBC also showed live tournament bowling by the pros from 1984-91 with Jay Randolph and Earl Anthony handling the play-by-play and analysis.

Pro bowling often had higher ratings than college or pro basketball in its good years before the explosion of networks such as ESPN changed the landscape for sports on television.

Locally, “Beat the Champ” was a popular weekly show on Channel 4 until the early 1990s. It helped that it was hosted by two broadcasting pros, Chuck Healy and Van Miller. To this day, some of the most vivid memories local bowling fans have are from the Beat the Champ years, particularly Nin Angelo’s 19 straight appearances in the 1960s or the day Mark Valenti ended Jim Wolf’s nine-week run in 1983.

The first four programs in the revival series were recorded last month at Rapids Bowling Center in Niagara Falls. Saturday’s first show will have three matches. Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Digati of Grand Island is the “champ” for the first match. The challengers will be Jason Ciliberto of Gasport, Chris Labiak, a two-hand stylist from North Tonawanda, and Joe Pohlman of Clarence.

Contestants were determined at qualifying held at Rapids. The next round of qualifying matches will be at Kerns Avenue Lanes in Buffalo at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 and noon, 2 and 4 p.m. on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19. Interested bowlers may call 892-3331. The next four shows will be taped at Kerns Avenue at approximately 10 a.m. on Jan. 27.

Veteran sportscaster Paul Peck and Greater Buffalo USBC Association Hall of Famer Sue Nawojski will co-host the show.

Twelve Western New York bowling establishments are cooperating and supporting the Beat the Champ production. Besides Rapids and Kerns Avenue, the others involved in the venture are Classic Lanes, Kenmore; Manor Lanes II, Amherst; Tonawanda Bowling Center, Tonawanda; Allie Brandt Lanes, Lockport; Mancuso Bowling Center, Batavia; Mallwitz Island Lanes, Grand Island; Lucky Lanes, Fredonia; and Transit Lanes, Williamsville.

Rules change snafu

Sometimes the best of intentions produce unintended results.

Last month the New York State USBC Association announced new rules for its championship events. Mainly they involved the eligibility of youth bowlers for the New York State Masters and Queens tournaments.

The changes were made by the board of directors of the NYSUSBC. One problem was they were made after entry forms for the tournaments were distributed throughout the state.

At the time, NYSUSBC President Roger Buckman said the change was made to encourage youth bowlers to compete in as many state and local youth USBC tournaments as possible and to safeguard youth bowlers’ amateur status.

“New York State youth bowlers have a number of tournament opportunities provided by NYS USBC and their local associations and are urged to participate in these and other local and national youth tournaments,” Buckman said. “Furthermore, the rules of amateur status vary from college to college; so where one school may accept the SMART (scholarship fund) money for expenses, others may not. Should a youth bowler have to claim those winnings as cash, it could jeopardize his or her amateur status.”

Some suspect the changes was motivated or instigated by some adult bowlers’ displeasure with youth bowlers succeeding in adult events.

Last spring, Sara Snyder, a teenage bowler from Depew, won the Classified Division title in the New York State Queens Tournament. Another youth bowler, Emily Notebaert of Rochester, was runner-up in the Open Division.

Snyder, who was the 2015 Section VI girls individual champion, felt the new rules were unfair and expressed that on her Facebook page. She wrote:

“Thank you NYS USBC for not allowing youth to bowl in adult tournaments. Thanks for taking away possible scholarship money for us to go to college and get an education.”

It is common and generally accepted that youth prize winners in bowling competitions sign a waiver to protect their amateur status for future participation in non-pro, scholastic and collegiate competition. Their winnings are deposited in a S.M.A.R.T account, a scholarship fund put aside for future use.

In full disclosure, it should be pointed out that Sara’s father, Robert P. Snyder, is a Region 1 youth director of the NYS USBC. He also is a Buffalo News employee.

The Snyders have been in communication with the state organization’s youth tournament officials as well as the United States Bowling Congress.

The issue may get limited traction because it affects a limited number of individuals. Still, whether it is reasonable or fair is the question.

Mee makes U.S. team

Chad Mee of Hamburg again was named to the Junior Team USA 2016 after the completion of USA Team Trials on Thursday in Las Vegas. Automatic spots on the boys team went to Anthony Simonsen, Princeton, Texas; Wesley Low Jr., Palmdale, Calif.; Matt Russo, Millstone Township, N.J., and Kenneth Ryan, Farmingdale, N.J. Two other bowlers were picked for the team by the National Selection Committee.

Mee earned his place on the team based on his performance in the 2015 trials.

Mee finished 65th in the field of 175 bowlers, which included pros such as Rhino Page and Ronnie Russell. He totaled 6,114 (203.8 average) for 30 games of qualifying, including a 241 game.

The other Western New York entrant, Kevin Bienko of Kenmore, actually outperformed Mee in this week’s trials but was not selected. Bienko shot 6,250 (208.33 average) and was 57th. That included a 1,437 (239.5 average) for the sixth-best male score in Wednesday’s round of qualifying.

Marshall Kent of Yakima, Wash., and Danielle McEwan of Stony Point were the individual winners in the USA Team Trials. It was the third time McEwan won the women’s team trials. In the National Amateur Championship held concurrently with the Team Trials, Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio, and Stephanie Schwartz of Racine, Wis., were the winners.

Pin chasers

• Erie Community College’s men’s team was 14th overall among 29 teams in the Lehigh Valley Collegiate Classic in Allentown, Pa., before New Year’s. The Kats, however, were second only to Vincennes University among two-year colleges in the competition. Dana Voytovich averaged 195.8 for the Kats. The ECC women were 12th.

The ECC men were 22nd among 31 teams in the Roto Grip Keystone Collegiate Classic, also held in Allentown before the Lehigh Valley event. Voytovich averaged 183.6 in the Keystone. The ECC women were 15th among 17 teams.

• The Lockport Scratch Classic will be held Jan. 24 at Brad Angelo Lanes in Lockport. First place will be worth $1,000. Squad times will be at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. Entry fee is $60 and walk-in entries will be allowed. Charles Zmozynski is tournament director. Any questions? Contact him at or 359-1827.