RENO, Nev. - Judy Dugas of Lafayette, La., and Mary Lou Baird of Steger, Ill., both made their United States Bowling Congress Women's Championships debuts at the 1963 event in Memphis, Tenn., and this weekend, they joined elite company by making their 50th-consecutive tournament appearances.
Dugas and Baird became the third and fourth bowlers of the 2012 USBC Women's Championships to reach the historic mark. Over the course of their tournament careers, they have traveled to 39 different cities in 27 states.
Women's Championships Tournament Manager Eric Pierson escorted Dugas down Center Aisle at the National Bowling Stadium on Friday, while Baird made the memorable march on Sunday. They each received a plaque, gold medallion and necklace to commemorate the achievement.
Dugas, a 71-year-old right-hander, was introduced to the sport at a young age by her parents and even experienced the thrill of the Women's Championships long before her first tournament.
"My parents began taking me bowling, including to Nationals, when I was quite young," Dugas said. "My mother, Agnes, made enough national tournaments to earn her 25-year plaque."
Dugas was joined on the lanes by Karla Faul of Spring, Texas, who made her 25th Women's Championships appearance. During the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Dugas, a New Orleans native, was visiting Faul and her mother, Dot Latiolais, in Lafayette. She returned home briefly to see the damage to her house before making Lafayette her new home.
"Karla's mom had open-heart surgery, and I moved in with her to help her out," Dugas said. "I was our city bowling president in New Orleans, and I fell right back into bowling in Lafayette as if I was home. I decided that things happened for a reason, and it has worked out beautifully."
In her 50th appearance, she was excited to share the moment, not only with the four teams that joined her from Lafayette, but with the entire squad that took to the lanes.
"I looked forward to this 50-year celebration all year, and it was so nice to share it with our four Lafayette teams," Dugas said. "When they cheered me on, it was totally sincere. This sport unites people, and my group supported me all the way."
Baird, a 76-year-old right-hander, is a two-time titlist at the Women's Championships. She is a member of the 1971 and 1977 Classic Team champions.
In 1977, she bowled alongside USBC Hall of Famer Mae Bolt on the famed Allgauer Restaurant team, which captured four Classic Team titles from 1958 through 1977. Her crown in 1971 came under different circumstances, however, as her team was preparing to disband at the end of the season because they couldn't maintain their minimum league average at home.
"We couldn't maintain the average to stay in the league, which was part of the rules," Baird said. "So after we won, the girls on the other teams said, 'you're not good enough to stay in the league, but you go out and win the whole thing.' We never bowled together again. We went out winners."
The Chicagoland USBC Hall of Famer began her career at the Women's Championships after being invited to join a traveling league in the western suburbs of Chicago.
"I was bowling a summer league trying to prepare to get into our majors league," Baird said. "I ended up getting an invitation to join a team in the travelling league. Immediately, it was a commitment to city, state and the national tournament."
Baird knew her milestone appearance this week was going to be special, but she never imagined the reaction she would receive from her fellow bowlers. She never imagined the effect it was going to hold over her as well.
"I was just standing there waiting for my turn to march out, and I don't know how many people shook my hand and congratulated me as they filed out," she said. "It's just an awesome feeling to think that you were able to accomplish something so personal, and everyone has been so gracious in acknowledging my achievement. I didn't realize the impact of this whole thing until today. It was really for me. I've seen it for others, but this one is mine."
Both Dugas and Baird competed in the Ruby Division this year. Dugas rolled a 590 series in team, 566 in singles and 509 in doubles for a 1,665 all-events score. Baird had 545 in singles, 530 in doubles and 515 in team for 1,590. All scores include handicap.
The Ruby Division includes bowlers with averages between 150 and 179, with handicap based on 100 percent of 180.
Presenting sponsors for the 2012 USBC Women's Championships are Circus Circus, Eldorado Hotel Casino and Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, Nev. Other sponsors include Harrah's Reno Casino, official brackets sponsor, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, Humana, official registration sponsor, Steltronic, official scoring system, and supporting sponsors Storm Bowling Products, Nationwide Insurance, Sands Regency Casino Hotel and Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa and MyBowlingVacation.com.