Friend helps Minnesota bowler reach 50 years at USBC Open

By Matt Cannizzaro and Christian Seaborn
USBC Communications

RENO, Nev. -
Bowlers from Minnesota have played a huge role in the history of the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and their success continues to motivate and guide the next generation of tournament competitors.

When Bill Smith, now from New Hope, Minnesota, began bowling as a 12-year-old in the small city of Jackson, Minnesota, he never imagined 10 years later he'd be competing alongside a future USBC Hall of Famer.

"We bowled in a little six-lane house with a rounded roof," said Smith, now 76 years old. "There were a lot of good bowlers in those small towns, like Glen Olson, Bob Strampe and others."

A decade later, at the 1961 USBC Open Championships in Detroit, Smith made his tournament debut as a last-minute substitute and had the opportunity to bowl on the lanes adjacent to Joe Joseph of Lansing, Michigan, who would be inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame in 1969.

Smith recalls beating Joseph's series that night, and Smith has added another five decades of tournament memories, culminating in an exciting march down Center Aisle at the National Bowling Stadium on Sunday as he celebrated his 50th appearance on the tournament lanes.

"I enjoyed the tournament, but I missed two years early on (1963 and 1964) due to a change of jobs," said Smith, who was presented with a plaque, chevron and special lapel pin to commemorate his milestone. "Then, my teammates decided to stop bowling after the 1999 Open Championships in Syracuse, New York, and I stopped, too."

After a four-event hiatus, Smith returned to the biggest stage in bowling in 2004 thanks to encouragement from Jay Joyner of Minneapolis, who is on the verge of 50 years as well, having logged tournament No. 47 this year in Reno.

Smith admits if it weren't for Joyner, he would not be on the tournament lanes 12 years later. He also fondly remembers his return in 2004 when he got to bowl with USBC Hall of Famer Bob Hanson, another Minnesota native.

A stroll through the tournament venue this week took Smith past the participation wall, which celebrates the history of the event with lists of longtime participants, host cities, champions and those who have rolled 300 games or 800 series.

"In looking at all the names on the wall of bowlers, especially the ones with 50 and 60 years, it's amazing," Smith said. "I know many of these names and faces. The bowling family is so great."

Since his debut, many things about the tournament have changed, but a few stand out for Smith.

"Something I will never forget is the sight of the men on the catwalk above the pins, keeping score," Smith said. "What a sight."

With the excitement building to his big moment at the NBS this week, Smith has spend a lot of time over the last year reminiscing about his career at the Open Championships.

"One time in the '80s, I was bowling real well and knew if I just filled in the ninth and 10th frames, I would shoot 1,900. I left an 8-10 in both frames, resulting in a score of 1,884. I didn't know how important all this was, all these memories, until now, when I hit my 50th This was something I just had to achieve."

Smith rolled a 502 series in team Sunday and will be back on the lanes Monday at 11:30 p.m. Eastern to add to his career pinfall total.

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