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Inside the ITRC with USBC Technical Director Steve Kloempken


USBC Communications
Published: November 20, 2009 | Bowl.com
As the countdown to the grand opening of the International Bowling Campus continues, readers will hear directly from some of the men and women who will work inside the International Training and Research Center on a day-to-day basis.

This week, USBC Technical Director Steve Kloempken, the leader of the USBC Equipment Specifications and Certifications team, weighs in on how the ITRC will benefit his expert staff, USBC members and the sport of bowling as a whole.

Provide some background on the Equipment Specifications and Certifications team. Who are the team members? What are their areas of expertise? What will their roles be within the ITRC?

SK: We have two research engineers, Nicki Mours and Donald Benner. Both have degrees in mechanical engineering. They are active with a lot of the testing that goes on in our department. The Ball Motion Study, which was completed in 2008, could not have been done without research engineers.

The same goes with our research coordinator, Jim Jaryszak. He is our most senior member of the team as he has more than 11 years of experience in this department. He helps with testing and also is heavily involved with the development of the different oil patterns used in our championship events, which include the Open Championships, Queens, U.S. Women's Open and Masters. He also works closely with the World Tenpin Bowling Association to help create fair and balanced conditions for international competition.

Lanna Longorio is our research chemist; she performs testing and analysis of lane conditioners, ball polishes, ball cleaners, pin materials and ball materials, to name a few items. Her work is extremely precise.

Stefanie Nation is our technical assistant; she helps with communication both within our department as well as throughout the rest of the building. She also collects all the scoring data from our wide number of tests going on at any one time.

Dave Nestor works closely with both Stefanie and Lanna as he coordinates and conducts the product testing, which requires both scoring data and lab analysis. Dave also is responsible for testing all of the pins each year as part of the permit renewal process.

Jason Milligan is our test technician; he measures all of the bowling balls that come through our department each year.

The final member of our team is Steve Boyle; he is our center inspections analyst. In that role, he processes all the center certifications for our 5,300-plus certified bowling centers. He works with the associations and proprietors throughout the inspection process.


As USBC Technical Director, you are the leader of the Equipment Specifications and Certifications team. What is the team's purpose, and what are some of the goals it hopes to accomplish as it works within the walls of the ITRC?

SK: Our vision is to be the number one source of technical information in the bowling industry. Our primary goal is to perform tests and conduct research in order to gain and maintain the highest level of technical knowledge. We also have the goal of becoming a world-class research center, which will allow us to promote and share the knowledge we have acquired.

Research is needed in our sport just like any other. It could be argued that it is needed even more since we have to understand the movement of our athletes as well as the interaction of the ball and the playing field. Last time I checked, our sport was the only one where you put your hand inside the ball. So, how does the grip affect the dynamics of the ball and ultimately the ball reaction or interaction between the ball and the lane? Those are the types of questions we address and are constantly seeking a better understanding of.

USBC is the National Governing Body of our sport; that carries a variety of responsibilities, which our department attacks head on. Those responsibilities include the management and enforcement of the playing rules, the presence of a coaching program and the dissemination of technical information about our sport. The Equipment Specifications and Certifications team is the Science of Bowling. It's what we do and who we are.


What will the ITRC have to offer that the research facility in Greendale, Wis., did not? How beneficial will the new facility be to your department's work (i.e. What will they be able to do now that they couldn't do in the past? How much higher will their quality of work be?, etc.)?

SK: The research center in Greendale was truly great. I don't believe there was a lot of attention given to that facility over the years, but most people who visited the back building were awe-struck with the capabilities and technology.

A lot of people don't know that C.A.T.S. - Computer Aided Tracking System - was developed by the Equipment Specifications and Certifications department in the early 1990s. More recently, thanks to the work of several key people, our department has been able to apply for four different patents in the last two years. I bring this up because I don't want to give any impression that the work done in Greendale was anything less than remarkable.

The Ball Motion Study was truly the most scientifically accurate study done on ball motion in our sport. It brought things to light like the critical role the coverstock's surface roughness plays in regard to ball motion. So with that said, we have some big shoes to fill down here.

The International Training and Research Center will provide unprecedented opportunities in coaching and training, and that's something that was never done in Greendale. That will bring a large number of bowlers through the training center. We will observe some of those bowlers to help us set up the proper criteria for some of our testing initiatives. This process may play itself out as we continue to develop biomechanics tools such as grip pressure and foot pressure, which we hope to refine in order to make them more readily available for coaching sessions.

Last, but certainly not least, we will have a new robot in the ITRC. Compared to Harry, our former robot, this device will be capable of higher ball speeds, increased rev rates and greater axis tilt and rotation. These capabilities will allow us to test under a wider range of parameters than in the past. That's very exciting for us.

How will your department's work within the ITRC benefit USBC members, proprietors/manufacturers and the sport of bowling as a whole?

SK: Our work benefits USBC members and all bowlers because they can use our research as learning opportunities to become better bowlers by applying the science of our sport to their own game. We also help ensure that the products they spend money on have met our specifications relating to performance and quality. For example, all balls that come through our department are checked for roundness. This step helps ensure that the ball manufacturers have the right systems in place to produce round bowling balls. We're pretty confident that our members wouldn't be happy if they bought a new ball and it “hopped” down the lane!

Another segment of our ball testing and approval process is the Mohs' Hardness Test, which checks the hardness of the particles in a ball's coverstock. During this test, we check to see whether the ball's particles will scratch a standard sheet of glass. This test protects proprietors by disallowing any ball that could potentially damage their synthetic lane panels at the point of impact because of very hard particles.

Additionally helping bowling center proprietors, we test ball cleaners and polishes thoroughly. Only those which prove to not leave a residue are allowed for use during competition. If we did not do so, the proprietors' lane conditions and even machinery could be compromised. And the bowling pins which go through testing are reviewed for scoring and durability, making sure that the proprietor doesn't spend money on an inferior product that fails in a short period of time.

Many proprietors don't realize we perform these tests, but it is definitely a benefit to them and their bowling centers for us to do so.

The Equipment Specifications and Certifications team also benefits the sport by publishing scientific essays and studies that dispel misconceptions about topics such as ball motion and pin carry. Less than two years ago, there was still a lively debate raging about which components of a bowling ball had the greatest influences on that ball's reaction. Some thought the coverstock was the most influential element. Other people thought the core dominated ball motion. Our department put an end to that debate by coming out with a science-based study on ball motion. That study identified, in order, the impact different variables exerted on a bowling ball's performance on the lanes. Our department brings this type of information forward in order to lead bowling away from recreation and misconception and elevate it to the level of a scientifically-studied and understood sport. 

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