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Milt Northrop: Frank Coburn inspired thousands of WNY bowlers

Frank Coburn coached, instructed and inspired thousands of Buffalo area bowlers over the last 50 years, including three generations of champions in his own family. The man who in 2006 was rated among the top 100 bowling coaches in the nation by Bowlers Journal died on June 15. He was 96.

Three years ago Coburn was elected to the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Hall of Fame for meritorious service. It was an honor that seemed long overdue, considering his contributions to the sport. He finally overcame the notion that he rode the accomplishments of his wife, Doris, a Professional Women's Hall of Famer, and later daughter Cindy Coburn-Carroll, herself a Hall of Famer and Queens Tournament champion.

It was Frank who inspired his wife to leave her job and daringly strike out on the women's pro tour, which was in its formative years back in the 1970s. He made a commitment right along with her as coach, mentor, confidant and fellow traveler on the arduous road pro athletes take. That daughters Kathy McDonald and Cindy would follow as pros seemed only natural. Granddaughter Haley Carroll was a standout high school bowler at Williamsville South and competes now for Saint Francis College in Loretto, Pa. Frank Coburn always insisted that daughter Kathy had the talent and courage to be a success on the pro tour, but living out of a suitcase on a pro tour was just not for her. Her dad accepted that.

Frank Coburn

Frank Coburn passed along his quiet passion and determination on to the rest of the family. Maybe that's because he had the drive of an automobile salesman. Before he and Doris set off on her pro career, he was a car salesman at Mernan Chevrolet.

He was not, however, your typical, tyrannical Little League parent.

“I never felt pressured into bowling at all or into bowling professionally," Cindy told The Buffalo News two years ago. "My dad taught me the basics but let me go from there. He didn’t push any kind of style on me. He stressed good time and fundamentals, that type of thing. He was good at teaching fundamentals, things that you can build on and grow from.”

Fundamentals. That's what Frank and Doris Coburn preached most of all in the clinics, both paid and free, that they put on for literally thousands of recreational student bowlers over the years at various bowling establishments. For more than 40 years they put on the famed "Coburn Clinics" for all sorts of bowlers who wanted to improve their game.
They also stressed sportsmanship. It was no accident that Cindy was honored for her sportsmanship on the Women's Pro Tour.

The Coburn bowling expertise was passed on by Kathy and Cindy, who became teachers of the game themselves. Kathy is the boys coach at Sweet Home High. Cindy once coached at the University at Buffalo, where she starred on championship teams in the AIWA (Association of Intercollegiate Women's Athletics).

Despite failing health in recent years, Frank was there to observe, instruct and inspire alongside his daughters.
Frank had sports achievements of his own. He was the 1965 George A. Obenauer Masters champion, defeating Hall of Famer Bud Schwabl in the title match. Also, he was an avid golfer with two holes-in-one to his credit. He learned the game as a caddy and once carried the bag for the great Sam Snead in a tournament or exhibition here. As a young man he also won the Western New York Horseshoes Pitching championship.

His connection with bowling began with setting up pins at the old Williamsville Bowling Academy in the days before machines did that work. He was a graduate of Williamsville High School and Canisius College and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, landing with an armored artillery battalion in Marseilles, France in 1944. By then, Frank and Doris were married. They celebrated their 73rd anniversary in February.

Coburn, who lived in the Town of Tonawanda, is survived his wife, three daughters (Barbara Jones, Kathy McDonald and Cindy Coburn-Carroll), five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. A son, Daniel, died last year.

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