A record 90 Golden Ladies show true grit during competition By Dick Evans

    03/18/08

    United States

    San Diego's Karen Smith rolls off with the title

    Dick_Evans_5152.jpg While watching a record 90 women bowlers – age 50 to 85 – compete in the Golden Ladies Classic at the Orleans Bowling Center in Las Vegas, Nev. one of my favorite Bible passages was leaving a striking image on my mind:

    "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

    Paul wrote those words about 2,000 years ago, but they still are repeated by many great athletes and scholars.

    Each and every one of the bowlers competing at The Orleans could say with pride that "they had fought a good fight, they had finished their course, they had kept the faith."

    Not one of the athletes withdrew during the 15 games of qualifying despite suffering from cuts on their fingers, aching backs, hurting hands swelling, sliding legs and even a severe case of the flu.

    Jeanette Robinson, a warrior herself who started this tournament 18 years ago, was proud that for the first time there were no withdrawals for aches or pains, although you could tell that many of the bowlers – mothers and grandmothers – were finishing the 15 games of qualifying on determination and many of the finalists were displaying true grit through the 30 games spread over three days.

    Throw in the Sunday practice session and the five minutes of practice before each round and many of the athletes had rolled 50 games, which would be about equal to a 18 week league season.

    Everything that is right about bowling was right about this tournament.

    Thanks to Storm and The Orleans, the prize fund is decent considering the $150 entry fee but the prize fund alone is not enough to lure 90 women bowlers from Washington State to Florida.

    They come mainly to have fun, to renew friendships they have made in this tournament or back home in leagues or on tour.

    Bowling comes first with friendships a close second. There is no pouting in this group, only hugs when someone makes a split or bowls a good game or a smile when a rival slaps your hand after you strike.

    Among the 41 super senior bowlers (age 60 to 69), 40 seniors (age 50 to 59) and nine super-super seniors (ages 70 to 85) were six USBC Hall of Fame bowlers.

    But none of the Hall of Fame bowlers won. Ditto for any of the 50 to 59 age group 'youngsters.'

    That honor was 'earned' by Karen Smith, a 61-year-old grandmother of four who recently was inducted in the San Diego Hall of Fame.

    The smooth lefthander never left any doubt that she was the bowler to beat. She led the 15 games of qualifying and then nailed down the top-seeded position for the stepladder finals by winning her first five games in the final match game round with scores of 229-225-221-232-243.

    Then in the crucial position round game Karen Smith came through with a sparkling 276 game.

    In the championship match the next day against hard throwing Loretta Ciantar, Karen Smith emerged with a 247-227 victory to claim the $2,000 championship check.

    "My best bowling is still ahead of me," said Smith, who has overcome back problems thanks to a personal trainer.

    Not even in this gambling town would I bet against her prediction because she seldom misses the pocket...it was almost like her ball had a built in radar system.

    Before the stepladder finals, I spotted Loretta Ciantar sitting in front of row of slot machines in the casino and she seemed to be concentrating.

    "I was listening to the music coming out of the Tony Soprano slot machine," explained the righthanded senior from Monroe, Mich. "I just didn't want to embarrass myself today."

    She could hold her head up high after beating former champion Char Hammel, 227-201, in the semifinal match and coming within a strike in the 10th frame of making Smith sweat out the outcome of the championship match.

    Hammel, who now has finished one-two-and-now third in the Golden Ladies Classic, only had a few minutes to enjoy her accomplish because she had to drive over to the Green Valley Casino where she deals poker.

    In the quarterfinal match, Hammel defeated USBC Hall of Famer Lucy Sandelin from Tampa, 234-195. Sandelin, who won the AMF World Cup Title at age 19, liked the environment of her first Golden Ladies. She was hoping to add the Golden Ladies Classic crown to her USBC Senior Queens title last year.

    "I will be back," she vowed. "I had a good time, Jeanette runs a great tournament."

    In the opening match, the righthanded Sandelin defeated Lynn Minning from Austin, Texas, by a 208-197 score. Minning was happy with her finish "because I have really been bad in other years here." She also has been slowed by shoulder problems.

    But she fought her way back out of oblivion by first going to a 10 pound ball and slowly working her way back to a 14 pounder.

    Fran Deken, who earned USBC Hall of Fame recognition in the meritorious service division, continued her domination over the 60-year-old plus gals with her second Super Senior victory to go with two second-place finishes. Fran also was one of the bigger winners when it came to beating the betting machines downstairs in the Orleans casino.

    Lil Johnson, a steady bowler from Lawton, Okla., won the second chance tournament for bowlers who did not make the first cut.

    The oldest bowler had the perfect first name to go with my opening quote from Paul.

    Her first name is FAITH, and 85-year-old Faith Douthitt carries a 170 average and is a joy to watch and talk to about bowling.

    "I love bowling," Faith said. "I'm not tired and my bowling thumb is good. I'll be here next year, you can plan on it."

    No wonder the bowling industry brags that this is a lifetime game.

    If you want to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith next year, then plan to bowl in the 19th National Golden Ladies Classic March 9-12, 2009 at the Orleans Hotel/Casino/Bowling Lanes in Las Vegas.

    And ask a bowling friend to share a room and some great memories with you.

    Email address: Evans121@aol.com