Call it the PBA effect Print

September 12, 2007
Abundance of pro tourneys in area help boost league bowling

Any sport is only as good as its highest level, especially individual sports such as tennis, golf and bowling.

Tennis thrives in this country if Americans are thriving in the biggest professional tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that is currently being conducted in New York.

Why do you think women's tennis is more popular at the moment than men's because of Serena and Venus Williams still playing near the top?

When was the last time an American male won a major tourney?

Golf has thrived since Tiger Woods has been winning major titles at a record pace. He's especially given the game a huge boost in the inner city.

It's the same with bowling, another individual sport that needs its professional ranks to be thriving. When the PBA is popular, bowling usually follows suit across the board.

Just look back eight to nine years ago before former Microsoft executives Mike Slade, Chris Peters and Rob Glaser purchased the failing organization. The PBA was a dying entity, not helping league bowling which was already going down slowly.

There's also a correlation between league numbers and having the PBA coming to your region. Actual studies or research on the subject don't exist, but it's one of two possible reasons for Northwest Indiana bowling centers seeing a rise in league participation as a whole while the rest of the nation struggles.

This little part of the country is the PBA capital of the world.

No exaggeration in that statement. No other area hosts as many PBA events as Northwest Indiana.

Five to be exact now that one of the PBA Women's Series events will be at Stardust Bowl II in November in conjunction with the PBA Lake County Classic on ESPN.

And since the PBA events have multiplied -- the PBA Joint Regional in 2001 became the PBA Regional Players Championship in 2004, became the inaugural PBA Tour Trials that same year, became the PBA Lake County Classic in 2005 -- league play has grown, especially at Stardust centers.

Stardust I in Hammond witnessed the biggest surge with more than 200 new league bowlers added this season.

"I'd like to think it's helped," Stardust II manager and longtime PBA member Bob Hileman said. "I think we have more people getting back into the game."

The PBA would also like to think it helps spark interest in bowling when a tourney comes to town.

"We haven't been able to track that statistic, but logically it makes sense," PBA Tour director Kirk Von Krueger said. "The more exposure bowling has to fans, the more desire they have to bowl on a competitive level. It's just like any advertising. It's got to have an affect and Lake County (Convention and Visitor's Bureau) does a great job."

Von Krueger can relate to that exposure since he became a PBA member and made a televised final after witnessing those same TV finals at a much younger age.

"Back in 1970s to me it was all about league bowling. I remember how much fun it was and that people should go out and try it," he said. "As a kid watching the (PBA) show on Saturday, that 1 1/2 hours made me want to go out bowling. I never got the chance to watch a live PBA event (as a kid), so I can imagine if I did it would have probably stoked the fire even more."

It's about having the best bowlers in the world in your backyard. United States Bowling Congress communications spokesperson Jerry Schneider has seen the same boost with his organization's major events.

"When the Open or Women's Championships are in a town, the next season we see a bump in league participation in that area. Those events are a three to six month advertisement for bowling".

So does that mean the PBA is a six-month advertisement for bowling in Northwest Indiana since it arrives in the region at the end of May and doesn't officially leave until November?

Just drive past Stardust II on U.S. 30 and look at the three PBA semi-trailers in the parking lot waiting for Pete Weber, Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Norm Duke to return in two months.