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Bowling: Landscape of tournament bowling is changing

Merrillville's Carly LarsNate Sipe pose after winning 11th annual Post-Tribune Boys Scholarship bowling tournament Stardust II Hobart Saturday May 11

Merrillville's Carly Larson and Nate Sipe pose after winning the 11th annual Post-Tribune Boys Scholarship bowling tournament at Stardust II in Hobart on Saturday May 11, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:45AM



It’s not easy running bowling tournaments these days. The sport has changed; the landscape has changed.

Even the most successful tourneys in Northwest Indiana aren’t having the numbers they used to, even in the last year. Take the Stardust III King of the Hill Friday night sport shot sweepers as an example.

“Last year (at the beginning of the summer series) we were getting around 90 entrants,” King of the Hill organizer and Stardust III manager Shaun Ciesielski said. “This summer we’re getting 55 to 60.”

That’s a 33 percent decrease, and it’s not the only drop in the area. Just ask local associations how their city tourneys have gone in recent years. Even Quad County — the third-biggest association in the area — had a substantial drop in tourney attendance this season when it had been producing way better numbers than the Greater Calumet and Lakeshore associations in recent years.

That takes us to the Post-Tribune tournaments that took place last month. Two of the three events had a drop in turnout — the men’s tourney went from 88 to 78 (11 percent decrease) while the youth went from 81 down to 40, which was very disappointing. The women’s tourney, which has really dropped in recent years from a high of 72 in 2008 to a low of 33 last year, increased to 37 (10 percent increase) and there were a handful of women who told me they wanted to be there but had a prior commitment.

And that’s the issue I have with some people’s opinion that tournament decline is right in toe with league participation. But not every center or league in the region is dropping, just like not every tourney is dropping (P-T women as an example).

The Friday Men’s Over 55 league at Olympia Lanes has filled the whole house (40 teams) for several years. The Monday Magicians at Cressmoor Lanes was down to 11 or 12 a couple years ago, but was back up to filling the house (16 lanes). The Thursday Men at Hobart Lanes was 12 teams this past season, but owner Rob Tucker says he has three to five teams wanting to join in the fall, which could fill the house again.

I firmly believe it’s how you run the league or tourney or center. If I don’t like the service I got at a restaurant, I won’t go back. Bowlers are the same. They either want a good shot or more money or good treatment by the house. The customers may not always be right, but they are always the ones spending money and making choices, and with about 20 area centers, choices are still plentiful.

So let’s look at the tourneys I have control over. Some say the drop in youth turnout was due to putting out a difficult shot, but we’ve had a tough shot for the kids for at least four years and last year we had a record turnout. One year and one oil pattern doesn’t make that much of a difference — kids just want to bowl. Only parents complain about shots, and those aren’t real bowlers. Those are the ones who want it easy.

At least two local youth directors said it was a matter of circumstance and bad luck — lots of other things going on.

With the men, though, that’s not really an excuse. And money is definitely not an excuse since the highest entry based on qualification is $15, and 100 percent of every entry goes into the prize fund in addition to provided money from the P-T, meaning the payout is technically like 125 percent of entry fees.

No tournament in the region can boast even close to that percentage.

Again, some think the oil pattern has something to do with the 10 percent drop in entrants. I actually chose the 38-foot Puzzle Piece shot because I thought it would score similar to last year — when there were four 300 games, a 298 and a 290 on the Beaten Path oil pattern.

Not so much. Scores were quite low, and some loved it — such as two-time champ Don Draia, Jim Helmecy and Jeff Snuffer. Speaking of Helmecy, we added a senior men’s division this year with separate money and a trophy, and we’ll be expanding it for next year.

That brings us to the changes that have been suggested: easier lane condition, opening up entries to anyone who shoots an award score or make it completely open.

I’m open to suggestions because, unlike leagues, tourneys and centers that don’t listen to the customers, I’ll listen to all opinions and decide by the start of the fall season which are the best. My email and phone number are always accessible.



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