The return of the USBC Open Championships to Syracuse makes 2018 a special year for bowling in New York State.
It's less than two months before the traditional first ball in the national tournament at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse. The tournament will run for 107 days, starting March 24 and finishing on July 7, the last day of team competition.
The Open, formerly called the American Bowling Congress, is in its 115th year and claims to be the largest participatory sporting event in the world. There will be competition in team, doubles and optional all-events in standard and classified divisions based on handicap.
After this year, the Open won't be back in the northeast part of the country until at least 2028 unless its the still-to-be-determined venue for 2022. Seven of the next eight opens after Syracuse will be in either Las Vegas or Reno, Nev. The 2025 event will be in Baton Rouge, La.
The tournament used to make regular visits to Buffalo and other upstate New York locales after the inaugural championship in Chicago in 1901.
The second Open was held in Buffalo in 1902 and returned here in 1914, 1921, 1925, 1932, 1946 and the last time in 1963, when it was staged at the Connecticut Street Armory. There were only 61 entrants in 1901. An extra week of bowling and a fifth squad each day have been added for this year's event because of the demand.
It will be the fifth Open in Syracuse. The OnCenter was the site in 1999. Before that the old Onondaga County War Memorial where the Syracuse Nats of the NBA and the Syracuse University teams used to play was the venue.
The Niagara Falls Convention Center hosted the tournament in 1983 and 1987. Rochester was host the 1956 and 1966.
Western New York bowlers have made their mark in the Open over the years.
The first was Jimmy Smith of Buffalo, who bowled 1,919 to win the 1911 all-events title. Brad Angelo of Lockport was the most recent. Only last year, Angelo took home the USBC Eagle for all-events with a 2,176, which included a 723 in team, 718 in doubles and 735 in singles.
Angelo became the sixth all-events champion from Western New York following Smith, Clarence Long (1925), Fred Fischer (1940), Mike Neumann (1990) and John Szczerbinski (2013).
Neumann also teamed with Bob Ujvari to win regular doubles in 1990.
There have been four regular team champions from Western New York. Doug Heim's Niagara Frontier Bowling Supply team won in 1983, Sound Track of Salamanca won in 1984, the Brunswick Rhinos of Buffalo won in 1990 and the Zawadzki Jewelers team from Lackawanna won in 1999.
Of course, the most famous local presence at the Open is Jimmy Schroeder of the Town of Tonawanda, whose streak of 68 appearances ended when he missed the 2017 event. His first Open was in 1949. Schroeder stands third on the all-time list with 119,015 total pins in 631 games for a 188 average. Schroeder's friend Bill Lillard of Houston is the all-time pinfall leader with 124,087 over 68 years. Joe Norris of San Diego has made the most Open appearances (71).
Besides the Open it self, there are side events, the most popular of which is the Bowlers Journal Championship. It will run from March 24 to July 8 at AMF Strike and Spare Lanes in Syracuse.
Some major local competitions are coming up in the Buffalo area in the near future.
X-Mallwitz's Lanes on Grand Island will be the site of the 19th annual Western York Queens Tournament on Jan. 28. Closing date for entries is Jan. 24. The minimum prize will be $250 for first place in each of three divisions. Angelo Brick is the tournament director.
X-Allie Brandt Lanes in Lockport will be the venue for the 28th annual Tri-City Masters. There will be six games of qualifying starting at 11 a.m. on Feb. 10 with single-elimination two-game matches on Feb. 11, starting at 11 a.m. George Szczublewski is the defending champion.
X-Qualifying for next month's Beat the Champ telecasts on WBBZ-TV are wrapping up Saturday and Sunday at Kerns Avenue Bowling Center, 163 Kerns Ave. in Buffalo. The top 24 will roll off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Show taping will be Jan. 20 at a time to be announced.
x-The 41st annual Tonawandas USBC Association Youth Team Tournament will be Sunday at Manor Lanes II, 170 Tonawanda Creek Road, Amherst. Squads in two divisions will bowl at 9 a.m. and noon.
x-The New York State Masters Championship will return to the area for the first time in eight years when it's held at Allie Brandt Lanes in Lockport on March 3. It's a scratch singles event that offers a $2,500 prize and free entry to the 2019 USBC Masters.
"We're pleased to be able to offer this high-caliber competition close to the bowlers in the Buffalo and Rochester areas and, of course, welcome all of the best bowlers in New York State to participate," said Roger Buckman, NYS USBC president. "Last year we had a tremendous turnout on Long Island, and we hope for the same in 2018."