Not more than a month ago Jim Wangler Jr. was bowling at a high level in one of the best and most competitive leagues in the Buffalo area. He and Kathy Geissler, his doubles teammate, finished in fifth place in the Alzena Wright Classic Doubles League at Classic Lanes in Tonawanda.
Wangler averaged 216 in the 78 games he bowled and had a 300 game and a high series of 781. As recently as February he shot a 279-736 in another elite league, the Kerm Helmer Classic Doubles at Broadway Sports Center.
A week ago, the popular bowler from Depew died at age 59, saddening the local bowling community.
Wangler was one of the best-known and most passionate bowlers in Western New York and he also was one of the nicest guys to step onto the lanes anywhere. He bowled in the best of leagues, including the Bowling Proprietors Association Travel League as well as the Kerm Helmer Doubles, which got its start at the old Thruway Lanes. More than once, Wangler carried an average in the 220s in that league or its predecessor.
If Jim Wangler had two loves in life, No. 1 would be family. No. 2 was bowling. They kept him going through some heroic health battles, which he managed to overcome until a recent setback.
Ten years ago, Wangler was confined to a wheelchair after undergoing chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments for lymphoma. For a while he lost the use of his left leg. Amazingly he was able to resume bowling, and at a high level. His determination to bowl again seemed to drive him.
His health battle forced him to miss the USBC Open in 2007, after 13 straight years of participating. At the time he had a career average of 200 bowling in the Open and its predecessor, the American Bowling Congress. Once he was back on his feet, he headed back to the Open. It became a Wangler family tradition to go to the national tournament as a team, which they named “Cancer Can’t Kill Hope.”
About a month ago, Jim Wangler Jr. made his last Open appearance in Las Vegas along with his Cancer Can’t Kill Hope team, which included Justin Hart, son Patrick Wangler, brother Timothy Wangler and son Jim III. Jim Jr. bowled singles, doubles with Jim III as well as the team. The scores weren’t important. Sharing another family experience and being with his fellow bowlers was.
One family achievement Wangler was most proud of was the fact that he, Jim III and daughter Kimberly each bowled at least one 300 game in their careers. It may be some sort of family record. Kim, who was team captain at Medaille College, completed the family trifecta in 2012.
Wangler was grateful that his recovery enabled him to return to the Open Championship in 2007.
“There was a time, not so long ago, that I thought I would never march down Center Aisle again,” he said of the traditional start at the Open. That year he bowled doubles with Jim III for the first time. “ ... looking forward to this tournament was a driving force throughout my recovery and without the Open Championships, I might not have made it this far,” he added.
Still in some pain, Wangler posted 556 in doubles, 544 in team and 507 in singles for 1,607 all-events that year.
Upon returning from this year’s national tournament, Wangler became ill again. Sadly, the end came quickly.
Besides his activity as a competitor, Wangler was a familiar figure at most major bowling events in the area, lending support or just enjoying the competition and encouraging others.
Until 2012, he was almost a yearly competitor on the Obenauer Masters as well as a regular in the City Open. He bowled on a Classic Lanes team that won the Scratch Team Division in 2010 with Brian Borowski, Jeff Racsumberger and Mike Zarcone. Wangler’s 752 topped that lineup of standout bowlers. In 2012, along with Sue Jeziorski, Jonathan Kroll and Dan Patterson, he bowled on another Scratch Division championship team in the City Tournament. He bowled in the GBUSBC Me & Mine Tournament with Kimberly, finishing second in 2015.
In 2010 he bowled a career best 847 series (300-280-267) at Classic Lanes. His resume also includes a doubles championship in the Lilac City Tournament in Rochester.
He always seemed to find time to give his service to the sport. At the time of his death he was a member of the GBUSBC’s youth and scholarship committees and also on the lanes inspection committee. For many years he was secretary of the Kerm Helmer and Alzena Wright leagues.
In his working life, Wangler was facilities coordinator for the Walden Galleria.
Liz Johnson 13th in Sonoma
Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga finished 13th in the first PWBA tournament of the season, the Sonoma County Open in Rohnert Park, Calif.
Who won? In the wacky world of pro bowling you have wait to find out. The stepladder finals of the Sonoma won’t be bowled until May 23, when they will be bowled and taped at Raising Cane’s River Center in Baton Rouge, La., site of the national women’s championship. The finals will be shown on the CBS Sports Network at 8 p.m. on June 6.
The finalists are Rocio Restrepo, Brandi Branka, Shannon Pluhowsky, and Maria Jose Rodriguez.
The second PWBA Tour stop of the season is the Storm Sacramento Open which got under way Friday with qualifying rounds at Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights, Calif. The stepladder finals of that event also will be bowled in Baton Rouge on May 23 and taped for showing on the CBS Sports Network on June 13.
• The City Open and Women Championships will head into the final week on Monday at AMF Lancaster Lanes. Final day of competition is next Saturday, May 13.
Next up will be the 54th George A. Obenauer Masters Championship from Kenmore Lanes. It will be the first time Kenmore will host the Obie since 1982. Kenmore also was the venue in 1972 and 1977.
• Veteran campaigner Ray Bellet’s 798 topped the Class AA Division (75 and over) in the GBUSC’s 45th Stan Kowalski Seniors Championship at AMF Airport Lanes. Sally Bender won Class A (70-74) with 796, Barbara Moe’s 876 took Class B (65-69) honors; Janice Schaeffer shot 809 to win Class C (60-64); Fred Jamison took Class D (55-59) with 820 and Scot Friedhaber won Class E (50-54) with 828. The tournament paid out a total of $5,406 in prize money.