BATON ROUGE, La. - Wayne Vanwey of Springfield, Ohio, George Barnes of Buffalo, N.Y., and Bill Hohensee of Lexington, Ky., became the newest members of the 50-Year Club at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships on Saturday.
Vanwey, 81, was the first to walk down Center Aisle at the Baton Rouge River Center and walked arm in arm with his two daughters, Kathy Daniel and Kristie Danley. His daughters have been by his side for the last decade of his journey, making his milestone even more special.
"I was very pleased," said Vanwey, who bowls league at Shamrock Lanes. "I was pleasantly surprised to see everything take place. I didn't have any idea when I left home what would happen, but everything was very nice. It was wonderful to have my daughters here with me. One has bowled with me for 10 years, and the other has bowled six or seven years."
Vanwey made his USBC Open Championships debut at the 1961 event in Detroit, competing inside the legendary Cobo Hall. He also has been a pillar in his local bowling community for more than five decades, including time as an Open Championships team captain and ambassador for the event.
After suffering a minor stroke in February, Vanwey was unsure if he'd make his date with history in Baton Rouge. After some rehab and a couple of practice games down the stretch to get ready, he became the 152nd bowler in history to reach 50 years of tournament participation.
"I'm glad I've done it," Vanwey said. "I was looking for a sub a couple of months ago, but I'm happy I was able to make it. Today was only the second set of three games I've bowled since February. My daughter and I bowled a little at the end of league to get ready. I feel pretty good after bowling today."
Vanwey only competed in the team event and closed out his 2012 campaign with a 414 series. In 50 tournament appearances, he has knocked down 78,718 pins for a 177.2 average.
Barnes and Hohensee have been Open Championships teammates for more than 40 years, and the lifelong friends marched into the tournament record books together Saturday night as the 153rd and 154th bowlers in history to reach the 50-year plateau.
"George and I have been bowling together for at least 55 years," Hohensee said. "We started bowling in men's leagues together, and then I moved to Albany (N.Y.) and later Lexington. But, we still bowled this tournament together. It's nice to have someone you can count on. It doesn't seem like I've been here 50 years."
After high school, Barnes found himself at a bit of a crossroad. His first love was baseball, and he even had professional tryouts with the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers, but he ultimately made bowling his sport of choice.
Like Vanwey, the Motor City served as the starting point for his Open Championships journey, and perhaps the best year of his career came in Miami Beach, Fla., in 1967. That year, he married his wife, Barbara, and bowled with Hohensee for the first time.
"It was thrill to be here with Bill," said Barnes, who is a three-time New York state champion and a member of the Greater Buffalo Bowling Association Hall of Fame. "We've bowled in 43 tournaments together. I missed two because of military duty. This sport has done a lot for me over the years, and I've made a lot of friends. I am honored to be included with the other members of this group."
Barnes, who finished the year with 575 in singles, 547 in doubles and 502 in team for a 1,624 all-events total, noted that even after 50 years, there's nothing like marching down Center Aisle at the Open Championships.
"My first year (1961) was really exciting, and walking down Center Aisle was something special," said Barnes, who has knocked down 84,138 pins for a career average of 186.9. "Walking down tonight was fantastic, too. Words can't explain how I feel, especially with my wife being here. She hasn't been to too many, but she was here today."
Hohensee made his tournament debut at the 1963 event in Buffalo, which was his hometown at the time. He has been bowling since his teenage years and even set pins at a local center during that time, too.
The Open Championships has meant a great deal to the 69-year-old left-hander, which is evident because he has yet to miss a tournament. With his wife, Nancy, in attendance and his two sons, Jeffrey and Kenneth, competing on the tournament lanes with him, Hohensee added his name to the elite 50-Year Club.
"The ceremony was great," said Hohensee, who is a New York state doubles champion. "I was a little nervous. I've never been on a squad where a 50-year member was honored, so I didn't know what to expect. Everything was great, though. My wife has been very supportive of my journey, and it's nice to see her get recognized, too."
Hohensee's mother started the junior league he competed in, so it was only natural for him and his wife to do the same for the youth bowlers in Lexington. After running a 40-team junior program at Southland Lanes for 30 years, the couple recently retired. Along with the junior league, they also were instrumental in the development of high school bowling in the area.
Hohensee capped off his 50th-consecutive year with 456 in team, 453 in singles and 431 in doubles for a 1,340 all-events total. In 50 appearances, he has knocked down 86,768 pins for an average of 192.8.
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.