Bowling in Kokomo - 25 - 50 - 75 Years Ago (1923-24, 1948-49 and 1973-74)
Bowling History is back for another season. In the past several years, this column has summarized the highlights of Kokomo bowling from its inception through 1980. If you missed any of these articles, just visit the KBA web site (www.netusa1.net/~kba) to find similar information, and more!
This season, Bowling History will cover a variety of diverse topics and, hopefully, next season will summarize the bowling events from 1980 to 2000.
Let's start this season by looking at what happened 25, 50 and 75 years ago in local bowling.
1923 - 1924 Season
The Recreation Alleys were beginning their second season and was the most popular bowling establishment in town. Menig Alleys were on the decline even though they were "rebuilt" only one season earlier.
Most of the top names in the game were on the two top teams of the time. The Recreation Alley Five team consisted of Bill Cooper, Carl Maudlin Sr., Russell Kelly, Bobby Overton and Henry "Lefty" Willer. Their major competition came from the Sanitary Lunch team consisting of "Little" Joe Fohn, "Fat" Hubert, Leroy Kulow, Derbyshire and Bobby Leffert.
The Guarantee Tires and Rubber womens team visited Kokomo to bowl the men's Coca-Cola team in a match. These ladies were the Indianapolis city champions and two-time state champions. The local men won each of the three games. The locals won the last game by only 22 pins. Four to five hundred spectators crammed into the Recreation Alleys to watch the match. Organized bowling for women in Kokomo was still over 10 years away.
The tradition of holding a tournament on New Years Day was in its infancy. In the 1924 event, Fohn would capture the title with his 1274 score for six games. Of that total, 1263 were actual pins meaning that he averaged over 210 pins per game. Nick Karnegis, prior manager of the Menig alleys, was next with a score of 1198. He was followed by Maudlin at 1170 who received zero pins handicap.
Bobby Resener fired a 678 series which was only six pins off the city series record set by Homer Kilbuck.
In March, Fohn competed in a 12 game home-and-away match against Indianapolis' Eddie Harkenrider. Fohn trailed by only 18 pins following the first six games. Harkenrider ran away with the match on his home alleys, winning by 76 pins overall.
1948 - 1949 Season
Bowling was well into its growth curve following World War II. Two bowling centers housed all the bowling in this season. The Recreation Alleys were at the second of their three locations at 325 North Main Street. Evans Bowling Academy was about 10 years old and was the most modern of the facilities.
That season, 16 leagues consisting of 114 teams competed at the Recreation Alleys. Evans hosted 12 leagues consisting of 96 teams. There were four women's leagues at the Recreation and three at Evans.
Inter-city team matches were still very popular. One of the teams visiting Kokomo to take on the local Leonard Jewelry team was a young Rodebeck Motion Picture team from Indianapolis. The visiting team averaged 19 years of age! One of their bowlers was a legend in the works by the name of Dick Weber!
In December of 1948, a new city team series record was recorded. It was set by Barney's Sandwich Shop with a score of 3220. Barney was none other than Barney Pickering. For you local trivia buffs, Pickering if the father to KWBA Hall-of-Famer Jeniece Kasey. Team members and their record setting scores were Elmer Cook (697), Vilas "Peck" Bratton (691), Pickering (676), Cecil Symons (590) and Benny Newburn (566).
That same night, another local standout had a great performance. Don Lowry fired a 702 series with games of 200, 245 and 257.
Other 700's recorded by the Tribune that season included Clyde Myer (718), Harold ":Shorty" Hall (717) and Lowry again with a 700.
Leonard's Jewelry showed why they were the top team of the era when their members captured every actual event in the City Tournament. The team champions consisted of Lowry, Francis Fisher, Harry "Doc" Sloan, Cloyd Long and Clyde Myer. The first three of these men are KBA Hall-of-Fame members. Lowry and Fisher captured the doubles title. Sloan harnessed both the singles and all-events titles.
The KBA and KWBA City Tournaments were held concurrently. Dietzen's Corntoppers won the ladies team actual and handicap. Team members Elsie Pettay and Virginia Scott won doubles actual and handicap. Scott also notched the all events championship. Zelpha Turner, won the singles actual and handicap crowns. Turner would give birth to today's KBA secretary/treasurer, Dave Turner, 16 months later.
Kokomo hosted the 1949 American Legion State Tournament that brought many bowlers to Kokomo. The only local bowlers to do exceptionally well were Ralph Maish and Bill Collins. They captured the doubles handicap crown with their score of 1368.
The Kokomo Shrine Club won the National Shrine Tenpin Championship in Indianapolis with their score of 3156. Members of the winning team included Clarence Bell, Max Pross, Paul J. Mills, William Cross and Austin Baker.
The KBA revived the City Individual Match Game Championship this season. In the 6 game finals, Fisher knocked off Cook in the close match. In the Class 'B' title match, Henry Bowman nipped Dick Stout by only six pins.
1973 - 1974 Season
High games for the season included Clarence Gaines, who just missed a perfect game, with his 297.
High series included Joe Metz (722), David "Doc" Dowden (710), Jim Grant (703) and Dan Simmons (701). Dowden's was the first 700 series ever recorded at the Eagles Lanes.
The KWBA City Tournament was held at Cedar Crest and, for the first time, there was no actual division. Instead, the tournament was divided into two classes based on the bowlers' averages. The following season the actual division would be reinstated, but with the two classes also.
Kokomo hosted the 1974 Indiana State Tournament and its' 748 teams. From March 2 through May 12, the team event was rolled at Cedar Crest Lanes while the minor events were competed at Play Bowl. Local Association Secretary-Treasurer Loren Guge served as assistant tournament manager. Due to the State Tournament, there was no men's city tournament that year. It was the only time that no city tournament was conducted since the KBA was formed in 1916.
There were several excellent performances by Kokomo bowlers on their home wood. After taking an early lead, the Eagles Make-Up team finished in third place handicap with a score of 3168. Team members included Roscoe Woodring, Harold Cecil, Rick Spangler, Everette Quinnette and Tom Thieke. The Magnificent Five finished in eighth place and was followed by J. C.'s Hilltop Lounge.
Greg Shelton and Dick Ference finished in tenth place in doubles handicap with a score of 1337. Ken Bassett and Elmer Lewis finished 21st followed by Dan Gibson and Bill Reel. Joe Gibson finished in a tie for 14th place in singles handicap with his 696 score. Dan Gibson finished in 13 place in all events actual with a score of 1826. Jim Fisher wound up 21st (1816) and Carl Babb 32nd (1802).
Indianapolis hosted the ABC Tournament which gave many local bowlers the opportunity to participate in their first national tournament. One of the locals attending for the first time was Bill Reel. He liked it so much that he continued to go every year since. Reel was honored by the ABC this past year in Reno with a 25 year participation award. Due to the popularity of the Indianapolis 500 and the resulting lack of available hotel rooms, we may never see the ABC Tournament in Indianapolis again!
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 the future.