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Bowling: Local company IGrind gaining popularity

Local bowlers (from left) Gradie Merritt-Foster Brian Gunn Steven Alford have formed IGrind Bowling with causes like autism awareness cancer

Local bowlers (from left) Gradie Merritt-Foster, Brian Gunn and Steven Alford have formed IGrind Bowling with causes like autism awareness, cancer and diabetes research on their agenda besides selling accessories and balls and funding tournament. | Steve T. Gorches~Post-Tribune

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:35AM



Starting a new company from the ground up in the midst of multiple larger conglomerates isn’t easy, especially in a business like the bowling industry.

It’s ruled by companies such as Storm, Columbia, Ebonite and Brunswick. Not that easy to crack those multi-million behemoths who mass-produce balls and accessories like there’s no tomorrow.

But three bowlers from Chicago’s south suburbs and Northwest Indiana are trying to be the little guy in a big bowling world.

Gradie Merritt-Foster and Steven Alford of Tinley Park, Ill., and Brian Gunn of Hammond started IGrind Bowling a few months ago, but have already garnered plenty of attention by knowing the right people and having a powerful message.

From a bowling standpoint, the name says it all — IGrind, as in grinding on a tough oil pattern instead of easy league shots. That’s the epitome of Gunn’s game.

Gunn, a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, finished second in the Post-Tribune Tournament in 2004 and rolled back-to-back 300 games in the 2013 Post-Tribune Winter Sport Shot Classic on his way to finishing second. So he knows about grinding.

Merritt-Foster was just a casual bowler who gave PBA tourneys a try. He was impressed with grinders like Gunn who were competing in the sport they love, but not earning nearly enough money.

“These guys are trying to earn a living and they’re not making anything out there,” he said.

IGrind’s first venture into solving that problem was being the major sponsor of the PBA Super Regional in July in Tinley Park, in which first place paid $15,000 and second was $7,500, which was still more than first in 90 percent of PBA regional events. The tourney, which was the most lucrative regional in PBA history, attracted some of the top PBA stars, including Jason Belmonte, Chris Barnes, Sean Rash and eventual winner Ronnie Russell.

IGrind’s first endeavor impressed those PBA competitors.

“They’re a good group of people who have a passion for the sport and we need that now in bowling,” Rash said. “There’s too much negative about our sport and we need more positive.”

And that’s where IGrind’s non-bowling theme comes into play. The name of the Tinley Park tourney was the IGrind Autism Awareness Classic. Merritt-Foster and his partners aren’t just about bowling. It’s about a cause near and dear to his heart.

“I have a son with autism and I wanted to make a difference somehow,” Merritt-Foster said.

Alford added: “To see the look on the faces of the kids with autism who bowled in the pro-am when the pros helped them, it was all worth it.”

Some of the pros were moved to tears.

“They support autism awareness and my son has autism,” Russell said. “It’s awesome to see a company like this having success and helping worthy causes.”

Yes, that’s plural because IGrind is putting its money where its mouth is by helping multiple causes while trying to get its own piece of the huge bowling equipment market.

IGrind already has shirts, bags, arm sleeves and shoe covers for sale at igrindbowling.com. Now it will be adding balls that will be on the market soon, each with a purpose and a cause.

The names of the first two balls — which are produced by Ebonite and Columbia — are Survivor and Type 1, referring to cancer and diabetes. From the sale of each ball, $2 will go toward Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation to fight cancer in children (Survivor) and Junior Diabetes Foundation (Type 1). The next round of balls — all of which are already registered for PBA competition starting in this fall’s World Series of Bowling — will be called Unknown (autism) and Type 2.

Two dollars may not seem like a lot, but Merritt-Foster has lofty goals.

“We’re going to sell a million balls — that would be two million dollars,” he said.

It’s not easy to sell that many balls in a market dominated by Storm, Ebonite, Columbia and Brunswick — just ask smaller ball companies like Visionary, Lane 1, Radical and Seismic. But IGrind already has some high-profile PBA members on board to throw their balls, including Barnes, Josh Blanchard, Scott Norton, Mike Devaney and Missy Parkin.

And with the noble theme of each ball, you can bet others will be moved to join cause.

IGrind’s next tourney endeavor will be in the Detroit area on Sept. 28-29 and it’s open to all bowlers, not just PBA members. The entry fee is $300, but the payout is huge with a guaranteed $30,000 for first, $15,000 for second and a 1-in-4 payout ratio. Visit igrindbowling.com for more details on the tourney.

In addition to IGrind’s bowling website, there is also a site devoted to the worthy causes they are fighting for: igrindautismawareness.com.



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