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What league bowlers are missing

Tournament bowling can be fun with a capital F.
Tournament bowling can be fun with a capital F.
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

This story originally ran Oct. 22, 2013 and is being updated with a postscript.

A lot of bowlers are missing out.

And they probably don’t even realize it.

The news this week that the West Coast Senior Tour canceled last weekend’s tournament in La Habra because of a lack of entries probably triggered a shrug from league bowlers – if they had any reaction at all.

And that’s sad.

Because bowling with professionals in tournaments is something that is unmistakably fun. With a capital F.

League bowlers are eligible for WCST events, provided they’re at least 50 years old. But they rarely take advantage of the opportunity.

No doubt, it can be costly – the entry fee can run $100 or more. But it’s possible the tournament could be one of those take-your-breath-away events that can be treasured for a long time.

I know firsthand about the thrill of bowling with – and against – players who string together six strikes as easily as tying one’s shoes. About a year and a half ago, I competed in a WCST event in Mission Hills in the San Fernando Valley and couldn’t have been more excited.

I felt like I was joining the Dodgers and sharing the diamond with players like third baseman Ron Cey, shortstop Bill Russell, second baseman Davey Lopes and first baseman Steve Garvey (I must have been playing short-center, like on a softball team.)

And there I was – at Mission Hills Bowl – sporting my lofty 152 average and being part of a three-man team bowling over two lanes that included eventual champion John Sowell, a left-hander who when he’s in a groove, is as good as any pro bowler alive.

And this was a day when Sowell was at his best.

The left-hander from Vista, Calif., not only hooked every shot into the pocket, but he took time to converse with me, provide pointers and encourage me. All the while, he’s playing for that $725 first-place prize – which he won in a thrilling duel in the finals with favorite Kevin Gannon.

When Sowell won, I was probably more excited than he was because I had bowled alongside a star performer who happened to be the same age and eventually became a good friend.

Oh, then there’s the bowling. How often do you bowl eight games at one shot? Can you make it through?

The tournament started in the morning with an eight-game set for the preliminaries. The top four bowlers advanced to the finals.

I had never bowled eight games in a day, but I huffed-and-puffed my way through the prelim round and even bowled a 199 in my sixth game. For the record, I also chipped in with a sorry 108 on my third game and finished the preliminaries with a 149 average.

By the way, etiquette rules are quite different during tournament play, compared to leagues. I had more than one not-so-friendly look sent my way as I apparently didn't show the right amount of courtesy to two lanes of bowlers on my left and two lanes of bowlers on my right.

But I survived. And when the final statistics came out, there I was listed on the bottom of the heap in the preliminary round.

It was fun. With a capital F.

It's something that league bowlers should think about doing the next time a WCST event is in the neighborhood.

Postscript: The WCST has enjoyed much-improved turnouts this year incorporating a new rule that requires players to be at least 60 years old to participate in its tournaments.

The next WCST event will take place May 31 in Las Vegas, followed by tournaments June 14 in Diamond Bar, Calif.; July 12-13 in Laughlin; and Aug. 16 in Ventura. Four more tournaments will follow to the end of the year, making it a 12-event WCST season.

For more information, contact WCST owner and director Dick Sanders at 760-363-6064.

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