BATON ROUGE, La. - Gerald Cole Sr. of Taylor, Mich., and David Finlay of Shawnee Mission, Kan., recently became the 148th and 149th bowlers in United States Bowling Congress Open Championships history to reach 50 years of tournament participation.
Cole began his USBC Open Championships journey at the 1960 event in Toledo, Ohio, and since retiring from his job as a railroad conductor 20 years ago, he's had the freedom to leisurely drive to many of his tournament appearances.
The long-time team captain particularly enjoys the travel aspect of the storied event and has competed in 32 cities across 23 states. He took a memorable trip down Center Aisle at the Baton Rouge River Center this week as he marched into the record books.
"I've had good health, so coming back each year hasn't been a problem," said Cole, whose career-high all-events total is 1,880. "I really enjoyed the ceremony. It was beautiful. I didn't know it was going to be like that. My experience has been great. I've been lucky to be healthy enough to bowl all those years, and I've had the chance to see a lot of the country."
The 82-year-old right-hander closed out his milestone campaign with 472 in doubles, 442 in team and 438 in singles for a 1,352 all-events total. In 50 years on the tournament lanes, Cole has knocked down 83,219 pins for a 184.9 career average.
Finlay also made his Open Championships debut at the 1960 event in Toledo. His original life plan was to become a professional baseball player, but an injury prohibited that from happening. Instead, he immersed himself in the sport of bowling and now has a lifetime of memories to enjoy.
Along with his five decades of participation, the 75-year-old left-hander also has been dedicated to the Open Championships behind the scenes as a team captain for 30 years. Since he considers himself a goal-oriented person, his sights have been set on the 50-Year Club for a long time.
"Today was such a great experience," said Finlay, who bowls league at Mission Bowl in Mission, Kan. "I just want to thank the USBC and ABC for what they have done throughout the years for me. It was a special day today. I already have my entry in for next year. Until I am physically and mentally unable to bowl, that's when I will stop coming. I'm just extremely fortunate to make it this far."
Finlay's teammates have been with him for more than 10 years, and it's a day they also have been looking forward to. The only thing that could have made it better for Finlay would've been if his children could've shared the historic moment.
"It was great to share this day with my teammates," Finlay said. "Many of them have been with me for a long time. It's been great bowling with them. I only wish my children could have been here to see. Unfortunately, they were unable to make it out. It really has been a great run."
Finlay finished the year with 476 in singles, 434 in team and 408 in doubles for a 1,318 total. In 50 tournaments, he has toppled 66,320 pins for a 179.7 career average.
Each bowler received a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the occasion.
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.