Phyllis Notaro attracted national attention for her bowling, first for the 289 she shot in the 1952 Women’s International Bowling Congress championship in St. Louis and later when she was the runner-up to the great Marion Ladewig in the 1957 World Invitational Tournament in Chicago.
Anybody who could challenge Ladewig, who some still insist is the greatest women’s bowler ever, was bound to get noticed.
Notaro, a Hall of Fame bowler on many levels, died on Monday at age 91 in the Orchard Heights Assisted Living in Orchard Park.
Notaro was 29 at the time of her runner-up finish in the Invitational. She was to reach the Invitational finals four more times.
In 1961, Notaro moved squarely into the spotlight by winning the Bowling Proprietors Association of America All-Star Match-Play Tournament in San Bernardino, Calif. The All-Star was the forerunner to the U.S. Women’s Open. Notaro became the first of five Western New York women to win titles on the Women’s Professional Bowling Tour. Doris Coburn, Kathy Coburn-McDonald, Cindy Coburn-Carroll and Liz Johnson would follow.
Notaro, who was only 24 at the time, became known as “The Girl from Brant” after her 289 in the WIBC in 1952. That record stood until 1962.
The 1961 All-Star was Notaro’s only national title, but in that decade there were limited opportunities nationally for women. Ladewig won the All-Star seven times between 1949 and 1959 and once in 1963. Of her 14 titles, all 14 came in majors, an indication of how few standard events there were for women in that era. Notaro also won the BPAA doubles titles with Jessie Miller in 1966.
The All-Star win made Notaro a celebrity of sorts. On YouTube you can view Notaro’s appearance in 1962 on “Celebrity Lanes” a bowling show that originated from Sky Top Lanes in White Plains. The black-and-white presentation was hosted by George DeWitt, but the play-by-play was by Chris Schenkel, long before he became the TV voice of the Pro Bowlers Tour on ABC.
The appearance probably embarrassed Notaro, who by nature was a dignified, somewhat shy young woman from a small community on the shores of Lake Erie in Angola.
Notaro was paired with comedian Milt Kamen, who perhaps was best known for his wacky film reviews he used to do on the old Mike Douglas variety show. To be honest, Notaro did not bowl well in the format and was overshadowed by Kamen’s silliness and her celebrity opponent, Sabrina, a glamorous actress from England. Pro bowler Lou Campi was on the other team.
Otherwise, Notaro was a serious competitor in the sport. She had three other top 10 finishes in the BPAA All-Star. On the PWBA Tour she had a second-place finish in the Billy Simon Oak Hill Classic in San Antonio. Shirley Garms won the tournament. She had 11 other top-10 finishes in PWBA events, including a fifth-place finish at the 1970 event in Rochester, where she had a 1,412 six-game series, then a national women’s record. She captained a team that won a title at the 1975 WIBC tournament, forerunner to the USBC Women’s Championship.
Closer to home, Notaro won 14 New York State championships and 26 Buffalo City titles.
She competed in 55 Women’s Championships, with her final appearance coming at the 2004 event in Wichita, Kan. She was elected to the All-America Women’s Team in 1958 and 1961, and earned the Women’s International Bowling Congress (now part of USBC) National High Average Award in 1962 with a 201 average.
She was elected to the WIBC Hall of Fame in 1979, the Buffalo Women’s Bowling Association in 1986 and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Her career as described when she was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Hall of Fame :“In the 1950s and 1960s professional bowling was dominated by the likes of Carmen Salvino, Don Carter and Steve Nagy and other top men stars who snagged the headlines. For the most part, ladies were associated with top professional teams. Outstanding individual stars were a rare and lesser-known breed.
“Phyllis Notaro helped change all that. … She began learning the sport in Angola where her family owned a bowling alley. Later she moved to the Buffalo Women’s Classic League where she perfected her style even more and continued her mastery of the sport. From Buffalo, Phyllis went on to a national career as a professional, a career so successful that she was ultimately inducted into the Women’s International Congress Hall of Fame. … Throughout her career Notaro demonstrated one characteristic that separated her from the competition: no matter how tight a match she would remain unflappable. … Her enormous talent and her incredible powers of concentration made her one of America’s first great champions of women’s bowling. …”
• Bowlers Journal International selected Australia’s Jason Belmonte as its Male Bowler of the Decade and new PBA CEO Colie Edison as its 2019 Person of the Year. In the decade, Belmonte won 11 major championships including four USBC Masters titles. Edison rose to prominence when Bowlero Corp purchased the PBA in September, and was named PBA CEO. She is the first woman to hold the PBA’s top executive position.
• The Erie Community College men finished 20th at the Roto Grip Keystone Classic in Allentown, Pa., and 24th in the Lehigh Valley Collegiate Classic in Whitehall, Pa. last weekend. Trevor Johnson finished 19th in the Roto Grip with a 195.8 average for five games. Eric Engler was 63rd at Lehigh Valley with at 180.0.