Bowling in Kokomo -- 1970 to 1975
This month Bowling History covers the Kokomo bowling scene from 1970 through the completion of the 1974/75 season. Scoring was still low during the beginning of this time period but picked up before the era ended. Series over 700 about doubled with most of them being shot in 1974 and 1975. The only 300 game was rolled out of town. The new Eagles facility opened which added eight lanes for Kokomo's bowlers.
This time period saw a slight reduction in the number of games over 270.
Dave McDorman stroked the first nine strikes in his 276 game. Charlie Branch powered a 277 game and Marvin Buechler pounded out a 278 game. Bill Minniear also had the first nine strikes in his 279 game. Others to roll 279 games were Al Marner, Jim Kenworthy and Bill Humphrey.
Dick Conwell broke the 280 barrier with his 286 game. Sixteen-year-old Tom Arnett set a Kokomo youth record when he rolled a 289 game. Arnett, averaging 171 at the time, struck on his first ten balls.
Guy Phillips rolled a 290 game. Clarence Gaines almost reached perfection when he rolled a 297 game. Gaines was rolling for the Continental Steel team at Play Bowl. Robert Connally fired a 299 game at Hillcrest Lanes in Peru.
Lew Cardwell also found Hillcrest Lanes in Peru to his liking. Cardwell rolled the only 300 game of this time period at Hillcrest in April 1975.
There were about twice as many 700 series shot as compared to the preceding five year period.
The top score of the era was a nice 751 by Dick Conwell. This score was only 20 pins short of Don Johnson's city record of 771. From newspaper records, the only bowler rolling multiple 700 series was Don Ocker. Ocker rolled series of 719 and 713.
Other 700 series rolled included Lou Wenisch (747), Larry Retherford (739), Doug Merchant (728), Tom Ayres (726), Joe Metz (722), Carl Babb (718), Jim Kenworthy (715), Dan Gibson (713), Charlie Branch (713), Jim Thomas (713), Bill Humphrey (712), David "Doc" Dowden (710), Hogan Salsbery (707), Mark Snodgrass (704), Jim Grant (703), Doug Allen (703), Don Pine (701), Dick Martin (701), Dan Simmons (701) and Bunk DeWitt (700).
Dowden's series was especially notable in that it was the first 700 ever shot at the tough Eagles Lanes and the feat would not be duplicated for over 20 years.
There were many notable State Tournament performances by Kokomo bowlers during this time period.
In the 1971 State Tournament in Indianapolis, Floyd Grant fired a 706 singles handicap score to place in 20th position.
In the 1973 State Tournament in New Castle, Kokomo bowlers captured their first championship in many years. Steve Frye and Terry Winchester rolled 603 and 560, respectively to tie for the doubles handicap championship with a 1391 score. In seventh place was Jim Grant and Ray Cameron with 1351. Jim Fisher and Bob Frank placed 26th in doubles actual with 1210. The best all-events scores were fired by Ray Cameron (1779), Dick Newton (1766), Joe Jenks (1756), Basil Harmon (1756), Jim Grant (1747) and Jack Bender (1747).
Kokomo hosted the 1974 tournament and had many top finishers as expected.
Kokomo placed four teams in the top 14 handicap teams. Eagles Make-up shot 3168 to take the early lead but eventually finished third. The team was comprised of Roscoe Woodring, Harold Cecil, Rick Spangler, Everette Quinnette and Tom Thieke. The Magnificent Five finished 8th with their score of 3110. J.C.'s Hilltop Lounge finished 9th with 3099. The Hurricanes blew into 14th place with 3071.
Greg Shelton and Dick Ference finished 10th in doubles handicap with 1337. Kenny Bassett and Elmer Lewis finished 21st with 1315. Dan Gibson and Bill Reel were right behind in 22nd with 1309. Joe Gibson placed in 15th position in singles handicap with his score of 696. Dan Gibson led the locals in all-events with his actual score of 1826. This was good enough for 13th place. Right behind Gibson was Jim Fisher (1816) and Carl Babb (1802).
The 1975 tournament was held in Marion where Kokomo continued its fine bowling.
Dan and Bob Preston finished in 16th place in doubles handicap with 1346. Bill and Dale Bough were not far behind with 1315. Carl Babb finished 13th in singles actual with 654. Tom Clark was 17th in singles handicap with 708. Babb finished in 6th place in all-events actual with an excellent score of 1913. Bill Reel (1813) and Fred Rutherford (1793) also shot nice all-events scores.
In addition to the Indiana State Bowling Tournament, Kokomo hosted the 1972 Moose State, 1973 Eagles State and the 1975 American Legion State tournaments.
Local bowlers capturing actual city titles included Tim Harrison, Dave Gee, Jack Kilburn, Jack Bender, Jim Cumbee, Dave Turner, Russ Morrow, William Reed, Ron Quinnette, Charles "Ears" Lucas, Jim Walters, Tom Ayres, Gail Henry and Carl Babb. The Firehouse Five and Play Bowl Lanes had two of the strongest teams in this time period. Scoring was still low during the earlier part of this era as evidenced by Quinnette's 1971 singles winning score of 603 at the tough Eagles Lanes.
The Eagles hosted its first handicap match play elimination tournament in 1971. Tim Harrison defeated Bob Wamsley to win the inaugural tournament. In 1972, Ray Harrison beat out Greg Gee Jr. for the title.
The Kokomo Youth Bowling Tournament was held in November 1971. This was the first junior city tournament ever held in Kokomo.
Don Johnson continued to bowl very well on the professional tour and was named PBA's Bowler of the Year. He was also the 1972 honoree at the Corum Memorial Dinner organized by the B'Nai B'rith Sports League in New York. He was the first bowler ever to be honored. Sporting News also named him PBA Player of the Year.
Eagles Lanes opened in the summer of 1970 under the management of John Cox. This added eight new lanes for Kokomo's bowlers following the closing of the Bowling Center and Sycamore Lanes only one year earlier.
Over 30 different women would roll 600 series during the early 1970's. Dominating the local scene was left-handed backup-ball artist Judy Belt. Belt tossed at least 26 series of 600 or higher during these five seasons. Her nearest competitors in that department were Joan Miller with seven, Sue Thornton and Betty Malson with six and Jeniece Kasey with five.
Belt's scores included a 676, 673, two 645's and a 641 series. Kasey had a 663. Miller had a 651 and a 649. Evelyn Wenisch had a 644 as did Betty Malson. These were the only scores over 640.
Kasey and Thornton rolled doubles together in the 1975 WIBC tournament in Indianapolis. They rolled 1159 which put them in 3rd place at the time.
The top game of the era was rolled by Helen Breeden. After sparing and opening she had only 21 in the second frame. She then calmly, (OK, maybe not so calmly) rolled the next 10 strikes for a 261 game.
Some of today's top bowlers were appearing in the junior honor roll in the early 1970's. Some of the more recognized names are Tom Arnett, Dan Preston, Larry Richards, Tom Power, Scott Nelson, Ted Wooley, Ed Martin, Dennis Branch, Rocky McClish, Don Spall, Jane Wiezbenski (Cloum), Jo Ocker (Brooke) and Debbie Reel (Stewart).
Ed Martin rolled with father Dick in the Father-Son League at Play Bowl. He rolled a 684 series which was high for the league - fathers included!
Cindy Babb advanced to the regional round of the All America Youth Bowling Championships by winning the Indiana State qualifications in Indianapolis. The 147 average bowler had to roll 12 games in the handicap event.
Junior bowler Debbie Reel rolled a 270 game in February 1975.
The weekly bowling column in the Tribune continued to be written by Gene Conard for a short time. Following Conard, Bill Vaughn took over that responsibility. Steve Myers began doing the column in November of 1973.
That’s concludes the Bowling History column for this month. Please let me know if you have any photographs, interesting stories or topics that you would like to see in future articles.