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BATON ROUGE, La. - United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Bill Lillard Sr. of Houston already has his name scattered throughout the record books at the USBC Open Championships, but he's not quite done leaving his mark on the storied event.
Lillard added another milestone to his resume this week at the Baton Rouge River Center when he made his 65th consecutive tournament appearance. The 84-year-old right-hander entered the year second on the all-time pinfall list and inched closer to the top spot with a 1,489 all-events total.
Only four other bowlers in USBC Open Championships history have reached the 65-year participation mark. The list includes USBC Hall of Famer Joe Norris of San Diego and Bill Doehrman of Fort Wayne, Ind., who each made a record 71 tournament appearances, while Sylvester Thiel of Lake City, Minn., and Les Berry of Wooster, Ohio, competed 66 times apiece.
"The reception was just out of this world," said Lillard, who made his Open Championships debut at the 1948 event in Detroit and received a plaque, chevron and custom ring to commemorate his milestone appearance this week. "I was kind of dreading coming to bowl, but I was really looking forward to bowling my 65th tournament. You know, things happen, and all of a sudden it's 65 years. We started in 1948 in Detroit, and who would have thought they would be giving me a nice gold ring for 65 years."
Lillard entered the year as the tournament's active pinfall leader and added 505 in singles, 492 in team and 492 in doubles to bring his career total to 120,015 pins for a 199 average. He's still 3,755 pins behind Norris, who tops the all-time list with 123,770.
"Well, Joe was motivating me," Lillard said. "But, I'm bowling so poorly that I may not live long enough to catch him. I used to kid with him and tell him, 'Joe, I'm trying to beat you, and I'll catch you in total pins.' I think I had about 85,000 when I was kidding with him about it. I think he thought someone would beat him. I think he knew that. I'll keep trying, though. I have a lot of people who ask me how many pins I need."
In 1956, Lillard became the first of three bowlers in Open Championships history to collect four titles in the same year (Ed Lubanski in 1959 and Mike Neumann in 1990 are the others) when he claimed the Regular Team, Regular Doubles, Regular All-Events and Team All-Events titles. He also was a Regular Team and Team All-Events winner in 1955 and added Classic Team victories in 1962 and 1971. He and Detroit's Fred Bujack each have eight titles, while Nelson Burton Jr. of St. Louis owns nine.
Lillard's career at the Open Championships has been a who's who of the bowling world and one milestone after another. Along with accolades, he's also collected more than six decades of memories. Each year he returns to the Open Championships now, he'll receive a plaque to commemorate the visit, and, of course, get closer and closer to Norris in the record books.
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.