Kokomo in the Spotlight - 1940 State Tournament
Kokomo bowlers were doing well in the State and national levels but had yet to host the Indiana State Tournament. Kokomo’s involvement in the Indiana Bowling Association (IBA) would eventually lead to their hosting of the State Tournament.
Henry "Lefty" Willer was elected IBA vice-president in 1934. He saw to it that Kokomo bid to host the 1937 tournament. This bid was unsuccessful but the "seed was planted." Willer was reelected IBA vice-president in November 1935 and helped maintain Kokomo’s visibility. In November of 1936, Bud Fridlin was elected as IBA vice-president. He also pursued the State Tournament.
Recreation Alleys manager, Sam Phillips, planned to modernize the facility in the summer of 1937 with the anticipation of bidding for the 1939 tournament. He planned to install new pinsetters and completely rebuild the pits, gutters and kick backs.
Only one day later, "Jerry" Evans published his open letter to bowlers in the Kokomo Tribune. Evans had a plan to build a new high class bowling academy. He would install the same equipment used in the most recent ABC Tournament in Indianapolis. After verifying that he had the support of the Kokomo bowlers, the eight-lane center was built and opened on September 9, 1937. It was expanded in June of 1938 to 12 lanes. This surely would give Kokomo a better opportunity to host the State Tournament.
On November 27, 1938, Kokomo won the right to host the 1940 State Tournament by beating out Fort Wayne in the bidding process. Kokomo was well represented at the IBA annual meeting and the bowling delegates from across the state rewarded them and voted by an overwhelming margin for Kokomo.
A lot of hard work paid off. But a lot of work was yet to be done. It takes much planning and preparation to put on a State Tournament. KBA president J. Paul Jones appointed the Booster Team, publicity, accommodations, arrangements and Bowlers Ball committees.
Back in 1939, the IBA did not have a tournament manager that ran all of the State Tournaments. So it was up to Bud Fridlin, KBA Secretary, to serve as tournament manager.
The State Tournament was largely supported by Booster Teams. Most of these came from the host city. They helped ensure larger participation and a larger prize fund. They bowled to "boost" the tournament. They did set up four booster divisions with a portion of the prize fund. Kokomo had a goal to enter 250 teams to the State Tournament. Given that the KBA only consisted of 198 teams, and that many of these bowlers rolled on multiple teams, finding 250 teams would be a challenge.
A few weeks before the tournament was to begin, J. Paul Jones appointed a number of "Flying Squadrons" to canvass each merchant. Each merchant sponsoring a team would receive a card to display in their window to help draw in outside business.
Standard Sanitary Pottery, Delco Division of General Motors and Chrysler Corporation entered all of their league teams in the State Tournament. The team entry fee was $10, or $2 per man.
Although they did not reach their goal, Kokomo’s efforts were very successful. Kokomo entered a total of 182 teams in the tournament. Of these, 171 were Booster division teams. This boosted the total team entries to a record 642 teams. New records were also established with 884 doubles team entries and 1756 singles entries.
At 7 PM Saturday, March 9, 1940, the tournament began. The new Evans’ Bowling Academy hosted the event. The tournament ran for seven weeks, ending on May 12, 1940.
Doc Holcombe and Fred Hurstel would take the early doubles lead with a score of 1213. "Fleck" Garrison shot a 659 in singles to take over second place. Proctor and Simmons would move into third in doubles with their 1225. Even the Tribune’s Ken Bassett and Deke Noble got into the action. They moved into fifth place in doubles with a score of 1181. Later, Don Lowry would bolt to the lead in singles with a 667. Larry Hintz also shot a 660 in singles for third place. Harold Kettlehut and Lefty Willer jumped into the lead in doubles with a 1280.
However, Kokomo’s domination would not last long. On the weekend of April 6/7, the state bowlers splattered records all over Evans’ Bowling Academy. Joe Fulton from Indianapolis shot an all time State all events record of 2052. He shot 745 in singles to take the lead. By now, Lowry’s 667 stood in fifth place. Joe Reis of Richmond was in second in singles with his 717 series that included a lofty 299 game.
After all the dust had cleared, Kokomo still had some fine finishes.
The Evans 20th Century team finished in sixth place with their 2955. Kettlehut and Willer finished in fifth with their 1280 doubles score. Lowry’s 667 finished eleventh in singles. Bill Samuels 1874 all events finished in ninth place. Other Kokomo bowlers rolling over 1800 included Don Lowry (1849), Harold Schrader (1818) and Fred Hurstel (1807).
Kokomo’s first attempt at hosting the Indiana State Bowling Tournament was a great success. Only a year later, in 1941, the Kokomo Women’s Bowling Association would host their first State Tournament.