Three join 50-Year Club at 2014 Open Championships

By Matt Cannizzaro, Jessica Gilgor and Aaron Smith
USBC Communications

RENO, Nev. -
Richard Bliss of Portage, Ind., Val Medich Sr., of South Bend, Ind., and Michael Wiser of Grand Blanc, Mich., joined the 50-Year Club at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships this weekend.

Bliss became the 167th competitor to reach the milestone when he made his march down the National Bowling Stadium's Center Aisle on Saturday, while Medich and Wiser shared the stage Sunday as they became the 168th and 169th members of the exclusive club.

Bliss, a 70-year-old right-hander, began his USBC Open Championships career at the 1962 event in Des Moines, Iowa. As his bowling career progressed, he joined the Hal Lieber Trophies team and helped the group capture the 1979 Regular Team and Team All-Events titles.

USBC Hall of Famer Gordy Baer also was a part of that championship team, and they've been competing alongside each other at the Open Championships ever since. Baer made his 52nd tournament appearance this weekend, and Bliss credits him with helping make his journey towards five decades at the event.

"There have been a lot of good memories along the way," Bliss said. "I remember going to my first tournament in Des Moines in a 1955 Chevy at night with snow piled up on both sides. And when we won the team event in Tampa. That team was together for 15 years and had a lot of fun times. I was fortunate to hook up and bowl with Gordy. There's no other competitor like him. I think he carried me through to get to 50."

In his 50th appearance, Bliss rolled 567 in singles, 495 in team and 472 in doubles for an all-events total of 1,534. Over the course of his career, he has knocked down 84,275 pins for a lifetime average of 189.8.

MedichVal2014_465x262Medich, an 86-year-old right-hander, joined his second 50-Year Club with his march down Center Aisle this year. He also has competed in The Petersen Classic more than 50 times and is a member of Petersen Classic, Indiana State, South Bend, Mishawaka and Michiana Halls of Fame.

He began his Open Championships career at the 1961 event in Detroit and has enjoyed the chance to meet new people year after year. He also was excited to share his 50th appearance with his son, Val Jr., grandson, Jon, while having his daughter, Jennifer, cheering him on.

"My son and I have been coming here together for a long time, and this is the first time my daughter has been with me at a big tournament," Medich said. "I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed bowling with them and bowling with everybody. I love it. I wish I could have another 50 years. I make friends wherever I go."

This year on the championship lanes, Medich shot 457 in team, 434 in doubles and 430 in singles for a 1,321 all-events effort. In 50 tournaments, he has knocked down 81,039 pins for a career average of 180.

WiserMichael2014_465x262Wiser, a 70-year-old right-hander, was 17 years old when he made his Open Championships debut at the 1961 event in Detroit. An immediate appreciation for the tournament and a supportive group of friends and teammates made the five-decade journey a memorable one.

One year that especially stands out is 1972, when his local bowling association chartered a plane. The 28 teams spent six days in Long Beach, Calif., the host city that year, and then two days in Las Vegas.

About a decade ago, Wiser began looking forward to the possibility of reaching 50 years of participation, and now that he's achieved that goal, he's got his sights set on another Open Championships milestone.

"Today was every bit of what I expected, and I recommended that anyone who's really close, definitely go for it," Wiser said. "I've had a lot of great memories here, and now I'm one step closer to that crystal pin.  Now that I've got 50, my real goal is to reach 100,000 pins. If I can maintain my average, it should take another 12 years or so."

The recognition program for participation at the Open Championships has expanded in recent years. Bowlers who reach 20 years on the tournament lanes receive a commemorative bag tag. At 25 years, they receive a plaque and chevron. Plaques are awarded every fifth year after, while chevrons are given every year after 25.

The golden plateau at the Open Championships still is the 50-year mark, which earns the bowler a diamond lapel pin. The award for 60 years of competition is an engraved money clip, followed by a custom ring at 65 years.

Active participation leader Syl Thiel of Lake City, Minn., recently made his 69th tournament appearance and is two years away from matching USBC Hall of Famers Joe Norris and Bill Doehrman, who each competed in 71 tournaments.

Only 13 bowlers in history have toppled 100,000 pins, including Norris, who tops the career pinfall list with 123,770.

This year at the NBS, Wiser shot 603 in team, 557 in singles and 528 in doubles for a 1,688 total. In 50 tournament appearances, he has knocked down 81,496 pins for a career average of 183.5.

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Presenting sponsors for the 2014 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.