RENO, Nev. - Suda Bailey of Cabot, Ark., has enjoyed the opportunity to travel across the country every year since 1963 to compete at the United States Bowling Congress Women's Championships.
This week, the 78-year-old right-hander enjoyed an important milestone as she celebrated her 50th-consecutive tournament appearance at the National Bowling Stadium on Monday. She is the sixth competitor to reach the milestone at the 2012 event. Her 1963 debut came in Memphis, Tenn., and the event has taken her to 39 cities in 27 states.
Bailey made her memorable march down Center Aisle alongside USBC Women's Championships Tournament Manager Eric Pierson. She received a plaque, gold medallion and necklace to commemorate her accomplishment at the world's largest participatory sporting event for women.
The Central Arkansas USBC WBA Hall of Famer knew her achievement would be special to her and her teammates, but she never expected to take center stage at the one-of-a-kind Stadium.
"I thought they would do something in the squad room, and that would be it," Bailey said. "The whole presentation blew my mind. I was just shocked. I was so nervous that I was just shaking all over during the first game."
Longevity at the Women's Championships has been a staple of the original group that joined Bailey on the tournament lanes in 1963. Carolyn Evans of Little Rock, Ark., and Dot Cunningham of Camden, Ark., have bowled alongside her in nearly every event along the way. Evans competed in her 48th tournament this year, and Cunningham, who was scheduled to compete but dropped out due to illness, also has 48 years of participation.
"Caroline and Dot have been bowling with me since I started on our original team," said Bailey, who bowls regularly at Millennium Bowl in Maumelle, Ark. "Several others have joined and been going with us for 15 to 20 years. Once we get somebody on the team, they want to stay because they love to travel. We used to drive to most of the tournaments so we could sightsee there and back. I wish I had kept a diary of all those trips."
Bailey's start at the tournament began after a friend asked her and her husband to join a league, and an invitation to the Women's Championships soon followed. An annual tradition rose from that first event and became as common as a birthday.
"It becomes a part of your life after a while when you've been at it as long as we have," Bailey said. "We didn't have a lot of money to do this early on, so we were determined to make it out every year. We enjoy meeting people from all over the United States and exchanging our hog pins. It's just something we really enjoy."
Bailey rolled a 364 series in doubles and 341 in team for her 50th appearance. She did not compete in singles.
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.