Illinois bowler reaches 60 years at 2014 USBC Open

RENO, Nev. - Frank Clay of Crystal Lake, Ill., celebrated his 60th consecutive United States Bowling Congress Open Championships appearance Friday alongside his family and friends at the National Bowling Stadium.

The 83-year-old right-hander became the 19th bowler in tournament history, and second in as many days, to reach the milestone. Clinton Zavakos of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., made his march down Center Aisle on Thursday.

A recent health issue nearly forced Clay to miss his annual visit to the USBC Open Championships. He has made it to every tournament since his debut at the 1955 event in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"I developed a heart problem on Tuesday," said Clay, who received a plaque, chevron and money clip to commemorate his achievement. "I went to see my doctor, and he sent me to the hospital. They operated on me Wednesday and put in three stents. My doctor told me I was free to go and bowl. I had a lot of concerns about how was I going to get here, who would replace me and everything else, but it worked out. I'm feeling pretty good."

Clay also made his 50th tournament appearance at the NBS and had the chance to bowl with several of his family members. This year, his family was there in full support to cheer him on from the stands, all wearing matching shirts celebrating his longevity at the tournament.

"I think the 60th was a little more meaningful, even though during the 50th, I bowled with my family," Clay said. "This time, my family and their spouses all came out to be my cheering section. I was on the verge of breaking up when I received the plaque, and again after I walked down Center Aisle and everyone was waiting for me."

Clay's first tournament appearance came at the urging of his teammates in a traveling league.

"It really was my first year bowling in scratch leagues," Clay said. "They asked me to go to Fort Wayne, and I did, and I really enjoyed it. I continued on and got better, and I bowled with some better teams. I've always had a lot of fun. Never to this day would I have thought I would be in position to bowl this event for 60 years. To me, it's amazing."

With his 60th tournament in the books, Clay's next goal is to join the exclusive 100,000-Pin Club. This year, he shot 481 in team, 477 in singles and 454 in doubles for a 1,412 all-events total, bringing his career pinfall total to 98,252.

"Now, I have one more goal left - to reach the 100,000-pin mark," Clay said. "I've known Les Zikes for many years and used to bowl with Joe Norris when he was in Chicago. Glenn Allison, Bill Lillard and Don Ellis were around then as well, and that's an elite group. It would really be an honor to be in that group."

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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.