One step forward, two steps back By Frenchy Letourneau



    ColumnistFrenchyLetourneau.jpg Picture this: Two NFL teams are tied at 24 in sudden death overtime. 30 yards away and third down, the team with the ball elects to win it all with a field goal. It's cold, windy and rainy, and the first attempt falls short after a sloshy kick. The QB (quarterback) goes to the stands, picks out a 63 year-old who played football in high school. The old man kicks the ball as hard as he is capable. The ball bangs the crossbar, bounces up into the left upright, and topples over for the game winning 3 pointer.

    The golf pro can win the tournament if he 2-putts the green. His first shot misses. He goes to the gallery and chooses a 63 year-old weekend amateur golfer. The old man whacks it a little too hard, but the ball rolls around the cup twice and it drops in. Winner!

    Bases loaded, 2 outs, score tied bottom of the ninth. The best slugger in the league gets a called strike for 3 and 2. The manager goes to the stands, chooses a 63 year-old man who played little league 50 years ago, suits him up. The fastball cracks the bat as the ball sails into the foul post and bounces fair. Game over.

    Game tied in overtime, one second on the clock. The 7-foot center is fouled, earning 2 shots. He misses the first one. The coach calls in a 63 year-old from the stands to take the last shot. The ball bounces 5 times on the rim, rolls around it twice and drops in. Game over.

    These preposterous scenarios will never happen in professional sports. On occasion, amateurs take half-court basketball shots for prizes, or get to run the bases before a big game, but never will you see amateurs running up against pros in these sports.

    Unfortunately, the way bowling competition is structured and the ease at which amateurs can topple pins with little or no expertise, the opportunity for persons of limited talent to win against professionals is brushed off by the USBC as " big deal."

    The recently contested Bowling Shootout televised from The Orleans last month shouted this loud and clear. Joyce (the author's wife) and I tuned into the ESPN taped show to watch as two amateurs bowlers rolled for strikes in a skins game against two of the best bowlers on the planet – Chris Barnes and Pete Weber.

    I figured that the pros would garner most, if not all of the available $150,000, so we subconsciously wished the amateurs luck, and maybe they could win a frame or two. The amateurs were a 48 year-old lefty from Georgia who threw the ball very well, and a 63 year-old retired Navy man from Maine who, well, threw the ball.

    Barnes, Weber and the lefty contributed strikes all through the one-tie-all-tie skins format, allowing the cash to roll over frame to frame, until the entire $150,000 was up for grabs in the sudden death final frame.

    The 63 year-old was up first. His straight-down-the-middle shot crossed over to the Brooklyn side, with the 3-pin tripping out the 6 for a recorded strike. Next up was Barnes, who packed the pocket for a stone 7-pin. The amateur lefty threw a great shot in spite of nerves and left a 10-pin on a slightly light pocket hit.

    That left it up to Weber, who had to strike to stay alive against the old man. It wasn't even for the cash – it was only to tie. The Hall of Fame professional who struck on his last four shots somehow left a 2-10 split, leaving all the cash to the old man.

    Joyce looked at me stunned. "Did I really see this?"

    Although we are happy that he won the cash, and in no way slight him for his efforts, we have to wonder what went through the minds of non-bowlers who tuned in.

    The professionals posted the most strikes, as expected, but for two of the world's best to be denied any cash winnings because a 63 year-old amateur with a 170 average could post a strike for a $150,000 prize really makes competitive bowling look bad.

    Say all you want about the pros and the conditions they bowl on for a living, but what we saw here was the realization that the modern game of bowling has a very small window of opportunity for "sport" and a ton of leeway for the "game."

    What happens now if a potential sponsor sees this tape and is solicited to support professional bowling? The first question they should ask is, "Where's the line between professional and amateur? I didn't see one."

    This program did no good for promoting bowling as a sport. The term "tournament" for this event should be changed to "contest" because obviously, anyone can win. Maybe the promoters billed it as an amateur event, in which case amateurs only would compete. I understand this was the format all through the event up to the taping.

    I also understand the ideology to include two name pros on the show to attract viewers, but the competition would have been best served if the amateurs were paired with the pros as opposed to competing against them.

    This event backfired if promoting bowling competition was one of its goals.

    I applaud the efforts of the promoters for the event itself, the USBC for certifying it, and the usual professional presentation by The Orleans. But the final scenario still sends the wrong message when the new USBC motto "Grow the Sport" is mentioned.

    The modern bowling game is all about satisfying egos of the hard-core bowling buffs and new-age mentality of more, better, faster, higher, which has infested the last two generations of market-targeted 18-35 year-olds.

    This Bowling Shootout ranks right up there with Jeff Campbell and Robert Mushtare, as well as seemingly endless honor scores posted by league bowlers in the most sacred of all events, the National Championships, in taking bowling competition seriously.

    If bowling is ever to be recognized as a sport, there has to be a playing field that is only obtainable through hard work and natural talent. The PBA has that already, with the regional program and Tour Trials. You have to earn an exemption to play with the best in the world.

    Unfortunately, there is no well-defined amateur venue. Kids and octogenarians are given conditions that allow them to look like professionals to someone who doesn't bowl.

    Other sports would never do that.

    Frenchy Letourneau is Publisher and Editor of the Las Vegas, Nevada based TenPin Alley Bowling Newspaper. He can be reached at