To all Decatur bowlers: This article was written for the purpose of printing in a national publication. This is why my references to local bowlers and supporters are phrased the way they are. I hope you enjoy this first-person account of the PBA Senior Decatur Miller Lite Open. --- Thanks, Al P.

By Al Pote

DECATUR (Aug. 12) - It only took seven hours and 16 games of competition, but I am now totally at peace. I know that full-time engineering and part-time journalism are just right for me.

In June, through the host center Spare Time Lanes, the Pro Bowlers Association asked me to help promote the August 8-11 PBA Senior Decatur Miller Lite Open. After accepting their offer, I was shocked when I received a fax that showed me as a member of the tournament field.

A bowler needs to be 50 years-of-age to qualify for PBA Senior Tour status. I won't turn 50 until November 14. Had this tournament been held after that date (and if I had coaxed a loan from my lovely wife, Crystal), I would have paid the $475 non-member entry fee and made an authentic run at it.

But PBA Senior Tour director John Weber, who was informed that I was a capable bowler, assured me that I would not get in the way and that I would be bowling as a "pacer." Still, my qualifying scores would be published nationwide, as if I was truly battling for the title.

For no specific reason, I set a goal on that June afternoon, to average at least 200 in the tournament. To that end, the PBA would give me some help. Courtesy of Weber and Hall of Fame Brunswick liaison Judy Soutar, I was offered a choice of two of the following three complimentary balls; the Siege, the Python and the Wild Thing.

After limited Internet research, I chose the former two, and I would receive them when the PBA truck rolled into Decatur for the tournament.


When June ended, I had been away from the lanes for five weeks, but it took 23 more days for me to follow through on the glaring necessity of pre-tournament practice.

On the night of July 23, there were only two open bowlers inside Spare Time Lanes. Fortunately for me, they were fellow league teammates Tom Adcock (former PBA member, Petersen champ and ABC Team champ) and 1997 ABC Masters champ Jason Queen.

Adcock and Queen encouraged me to throw their Brunswick equipment, which happened to include the three ball choices that were made available to me. Even though we were on a house pattern, it was a big advantage for me to see the different ball reactions.

I embarked on one more practice session the following Thursday and declared myself ready when my final game ended at 258. But I knew that the score was meaningless because I was rolling on what the big boys call "THC" (Typical House China).

Only once a year will I confront something similar to PBA lane conditions; the USBC Open Championships, where my career average is 30 pins below my current league mark. Even with that discrepancy, I was beginning to question my even-par predilection.

My USBC Doubles partner is Butch Woollen, owner of a Midwest Regional Senior title. I also share a league with Decatur's Bennie Holman, who has an incredible senior regional record with two seconds in seven starts. Every once-in-a-while, I outscore both of them. So why settle for averaging 200?


On the Friday before the practice sessions and Pro-Ams, I was introduced to Corey Kistner, the tournament director. Corey presented me with the first hurdle that I needed to clear.

I had explained that, with John Weber's blessing, I would be wearing a special shirt that had the phrase "For the Cure" on the back, as I was raising money for the tournament charity on the basis of my scores and number of strikes.

Corey informed me that the phrase would be acceptable, but I would also need my name on the back. I would also need a name on the back of the shirt I would wear for practice.

I have no such shirts. I knew about the name-on-the-shirt rule for tournament play, but I was not actually competing for the title, and I thought I needed to stand apart from the others, not with them. I had no clue about the same requirement for practice.

I don't recall anything Kistner said after that, because my mind jumped to solving the problems at-hand. It was nearly 7pm, and I had to be "legal" in 12 hours.

My first concern was the tournament shirt. I went through three people to find the unlisted home number of the trophy shop curator who provided me with the Cure shirt. It was not until 10:30 on Friday night that I got a call from a friend who had her number.

In the interim, I sprinted to the local Wal-Mart to see what kind of stenciling they had which would satisfy the PBA practice rule. The best thing I could find was mailbox lettering.

(When my friends read this, I know they will provide me with my world-record 15th bowling nickname "Mailbags.")

Of course, even that purchase would not go smoothly, as they were all out of P's. Fortunately, they had a surplus of R's, so I grabbed two sets of "R-O-T-E." At home, I trimmed one R to look like a P, cut out the other three and stuck that set on an old, snug but clean beige shirt.

I did not even bother tinkering with the second group of letters; it was too close to bedtime.

The Saturday weather forecast was for outside temperatures near 100. Even though Spare Time has done a great job with their air-conditioning, to the point where some female spectators need jackets, I knew I would perspire profusely. I prayed that my four mailbox letters would stay on my back.

My first weekend visit was to the tour's equipment truck, where Don Simonian and Will Haverland were on the clock at 7:30, waiting for me and others to punch up something new. I left them to their work, and they drilled my Siege and Python to my exact, current specs.

But my ignorance of a not-so-new bowling term put me in a hole, no pun intended. Simonian asked me if I wanted to "slug" my ball. I was afraid I would break my hand. After I found I could throw Adcock's stuff without any thumb accessories, I told him to just drill regular 59/64" thumbholes.

The first order of tournament business was the non-members meeting, where Kistner handed out the rules and waiver sheets, and explained the importance of lane courtesy and the use of PBA-registered equipment.

I had bowled a couple regionals and watched scores of tournaments, so the alternate-pair format was no problem. For the latter, I went to Spare Time Pro Shop mentor Ernie Keltner to get a couple Vise finger lifts to replace the Contours in my spare ball, but the thumb was still nonconforming, so I kept it hidden as best as possible during practice.

I decided to patronize my sponsors and shell out $3 for a PBA bag-tag and three more for a PBA shirtsleeve patch. I was assured that this patch would stick; I was still afraid of my rural-route lettering over a mere 60 minutes of practice.

Once the session started, I found myself adding yards of tape to my new thumbholes, and I was having a terrible time clearing the holes in both the new balls. I went to Decatur's PBA champ and friend Gene Vincent and asked if he could tinker with the thumbholes after practice was over, and he accepted.

With five minutes to go, I walked back and asked local bowler John Berry if my letters were still attached to my shirt. After an affirmative reply, I took no further chances and put my three-ball bag in my SUV, knowing I would need to take it to Vincent's shop.

When I took my shirt off, all four letters fell to the floor. If only I could have the same perfect timing when I bowl. For one hour, it was $5.01 (eight letters at 58 cents, plus 8% tax) well spent.

In his shop, Vincent drilled oversize holes and put in black, PBA-approved dowels, into which he drilled 29/32" holes. Gene confirmed that he was "slugging" the thumbholes. The PBA truck could have done all that for nothing, but Gene earned his $30 and the two McChicken sandwiches I got for him.

As Vincent did his handiwork, I called Diane at Custom Trophies, who was working a rare Saturday. I explained the need for four more letters on my charity shirt. Gracious as ever, Diane asked me to drop off the shirt, and she would return it to me at Spare Time within a few hours.

I returned to the host center and used the paddock tools to adjust the new slugs and lifts, preparing for my small role in the opening ceremonies ahead of the first Pro-Am squad.

Just after 2pm, Diane handed me the upgraded shirt. At that time, I officially declared myself ready for competition.


Of all the information available in the bowlers' paddock, the obvious thing that I had ignored was the lane graph. I do all of the graphs for the Decatur USBC BA and WBA, so one would think that it would be the first thing I'd digest.

To my delight, the graphs were almost identical to the Las Vegas USBC's, but with one huge difference. The volume of oil was slashed in half, and I thought that would be bad for a slow rolling right-hander like me.

But early in the tournament, I would discover another--and what would turn out to be my biggest--problem; my sense of loyalty.

Since Brunswick is a PBA corporate partner, I felt back in June that I needed to have a "B" on my spare ball. The closest thing I had in my garage was a "Power Groove Dry-R."

A spare ball should not hook at all, but the Dry-R had a mind of its own, hooking when I threw it straight and skating when I begged for a measly two-board tilt.

Also out of loyalty, I limited myself to using only the two new balls and the schizophrenic spare sphere. To me, the PBA was giving an in-kind gift of over $800. I shot an 800 in April with a Pearl Cell, but I felt it would be an insult to prepare or use any other brand of ball, especially since I was just a "pacer."

I got on the lanes on Sunday and was so tense; I could only muster three words apiece to the two lefties who would cross with me, Norb Wetzel and Rod Tramp. Fortunately, Wetzel's wife and other friends were along for the ride (mine stayed home), and they, along with the pros, made me feel at ease.

But the mistakes started immediately; three missed spares courtesy of my misbehaving Dry-R led to an opening 162. However, when I moved from 7-8 to 11-12, it was an epiphany. I spared in the first frame and then ran the next nine strikes, with only one Brooklyn.

A nine-spare in the 11th and 12th gave me a 279, vaulting me from 50th to 12th place and onto the "first page of the leader board."

The most memorable thing about that game was receiving glances and nods from big-time bowlers who were not on my pair. Points leader Ron Mohr to my left, Hall of Famers Tom Baker and Mark Williams two and three pairs away on the opposite side, and a few others gave me that "good job, you belong here" gesture.

Tim Kauble, Dave Patchen and Randy Rau, the players to my immediate right, all slapped hands, with the fun-loving Kauble warning me, "don't come out here when you do turn 50."

But that's where the magic ended. Day one concluded with more unforced errors and games of 171 and 169, dropping me below the Mendoza line to 76th place, 51 pins under my modest goal.


Monday started well with a 233, and after resurging from a 176 with a 211 and 240, I was suddenly back on the plus-side. I dipped into the red the next game with a 174, and in game fourteen, I got a little too cocky.

After starting with a three-bagger, I got up on lane 22, which had a horrible rack about half the time the pins appeared. I got one where the 3-6 looked like the 3-10, so I took my first "semi-senior-professional re-rack." I'm sure the surrounding pros were thinking "what for?"

The next rack was perfect, but the shot was not. My follow-through looked like a wrestling "step-over toe-hold," and the ball crossed over to leave the three-pin.

My embarrassment was transformed into laughter when I walked off the approach and saw Patchen holding his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart, mimicking the late Don Adams, telling me I "missed it by that much."

That relaxed me and I finished that game with 213, getting me back to minus-4. In game fifteen, on 25-26, I hit the pocket at will and could not carry. It was in the seventh frame that I made my first "semi-senior-professional ball change."

I had (rightly) blamed myself for all my previous mistakes, but this one was not mine. I went from the Python, which I had been expecting to use the whole tournament, to the Siege, and made a 3-and-2 move to try and find some carry. I got four strikes on the next six shots and ground out a 202, getting me two pins closer to "even."

Sadly, my final pair (29-30) was like the Mojave, and after a spare and a double, six nosedives led to a 166 and a final total of 3164, thirty-six pins short of my magic number.


With a league average of 221, plus eight perfect games (in six different houses) and four 800's, I can be considered a competent bowler. Most high-average bowlers I know have respect for the pros, but they also feel that they could compete with and beat them if they just had all the pros' "toys."

I have heard people say "don't act like they are so much better than you," and as a result, you force yourself to behave as if you are on the same level with them. But in reality, the PBA stars are several stories higher.

There I was, fighting my brains out to average 200, and a few lanes away, my league buddy Bennie Holman was crushing the pins, leading the entire field after the first day and easily making match play (he finished in a tie for 17th). In the other half of the draw, Dale Traber was 480-over after 16 games. For the numerically-challenged, that's a 230 average. I only had three games over 230.

Legends like Baker and Mark Williams and Hugh Miller, and eventual champ Steve Ferraro, all topped the 220 mark in qualifying. Sure I was inexperienced, and under armed, and nervous. But even if I had overcome all those obstacles, I don't see where I could have averaged 220.

It made me wonder how I could have ever cashed in a "kids" regional, like I did at Decatur's Pla-Mor Lanes in 1989, where I hung on after starting with my new specialty, a 279. But in 2009 the rope is more frayed, unable to bear the 250 pounds that this part-time player carries now.

But it was a thrill of a lifetime, and the best on-lane learning experience of my career. I have been very lucky to be able meet and talk to the best bowlers in the world, including Dick Weber and Earl Anthony before their passing, all because I did some local radio and newspaper work. I now have a shirt filled with treasured autographs. How many Joe Bowlers get those opportunities?

In Decatur, I talked at length with Baker, the four-time Senior Player-of-the-Year, who at the time was one month from his 55th birthday. His rock-solid physique made me feel rather ashamed. Sometimes you can take one look at a single athlete and see everything it takes to excel in professional sports.

So I don't have a pro's game...and probably never will. I won't lose any sleep over it. Moreover, the next time I drive Crystal to St. Louis for her regular chemotherapy, I will place everything back in its proper perspective. Bowling may appear to be my life, but I promise you...and her...it is not.

Finally, I have a good feeling that my Thursday and Friday teammates will keep me on the roster. I have two new 279's...and my old Ebonite spare ball...tucked in my three-ball bag.
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Winners of all 2021-2022 Decatur City Championships!

Decatur Youth Championship,
December 2021:

Team Handicap

  • 10 Pin Galore (2943)
    (Lucas Boyd, Riley Barry,
    Tucker Griffin, Dillan Carter)

Team Scratch

  • 10 Pin Galore (2289)

Doubles Handicap

  • Lucas Boyd-Riley Barry (1436)

Doubles Scratch

  • Lucas Boyd-Riley Barry (1205)

Singles Handicap

  • Glen King III (735)

Singles Scratch

  • Lucas Boyd (606)

All Events Handicap

  • Dillan Carter (2245)

All Events Scratch

  • Lucas Boyd (1860)
Decatur Women's Championship,
November 2021:

Team Handicap

  • Thrown Together (2870)
    (Amy Barry, Cassie Walden,
    Trisha Swartz, Laura Stone)

Team Scratch

  • Thrown Together (2384)

Doubles Handicap

  • Jo Fellows-Mandie Dietz (1387)

Doubles Scratch

  • Kendra Griffin-Vonna Mears (1128)

Singles Handicap

  • Kendra Griffin (775)

Singles Scratch

  • Kendra Griffin (685)

All Events Handicap

  • Diana Finley (2106)

All Events Scratch

  • Cynthia Howell (1752)
Decatur Mixed Championship,
October-November 2021:

Team Handicap

  • Larry Carry (2725)
    (Trinity Bush, Robyn Adcock,
    Adam Mackey, Larry Porter)

Team Scratch

  • Kiss'n More Sturgeon (2526)
    (Hannah Moore, Sheila Queen-Kistner,
    Corey Kistner, Britt Sturgeon)

Doubles Handicap

  • Diana Finley-Cody Finley (1461)

Doubles Scratch

  • Chelsie Finch-Terrence Cloyd (1363)
Decatur Open Championship,
October 2021:

Team Handicap

  • Drakes Dream Team (3666)
    (Mike Drake, Trace Wade, Clayton Griffin,
    John Larry, Cody Finley)

Team Scratch

  • Drakes Dream Team (3429)

Doubles Handicap

  • Trevor Petro-Logan Petro (1531)

Doubles Scratch

  • Clayton Griffin-John Larry (1377)

Singles Handicap

  • Mike Tanzyus (785)

Singles Scratch

  • Rob Baser (757)

All Events Handicap

  • Clayton Griffin (2192)

All Events Scratch

  • Clayton Griffin (2119)
Decatur 600 Club Championship,
February 12-13, 2022:

Doubles Handicap

  • Jo Fellows-Mandie Dietz (1455)

Doubles Scratch

  • Kendra Griffin-Vonna Mears (1250)

Singles Handicap

  • Diana Finley (777)

Singles Scratch

  • Taylor Bird (689)

All Events Handicap

  • Jo Fellows (1499)

All Events Scratch

  • Taylor Bird (1307)