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Bowl Opinion - It's OK Glenn - We (The People) Will Always Know You Did It

Bowl Opinion – Jim Goodwin

It’s OK Glenn – We (The People) Will Always Know You Did It

Many industry insiders, including more than a few journalists, were surprised to see a November 22 press release from the United States Bowling Congress with the headline: USBC CONCLUDES RE-EVALUATION OF

Huh? Is this how our sport’s governing body is spending its time these days? And if memory serves, this is at least the third time this futile exercise has been undertaken.

This time it is USBC president Andrew Cain echoing very similar words from his predecessors:

“Any official change to Glenn Allison’s 900 would also impact thousands of scores in that era,” Cain said. “As a National Governing Body with legal responsibility to enforce rules uniformly, we simply can’t re-write history for one score and apply a different standard more than 30 years later.”

(If you already knew that – why did you bother to look at it again?)

USBC’s Board of Directors has agreed the issue is now settled given that all the evidence has been considered, the press release says.

(Wanna bet?)

“Glenn Allison is a living legend and a Hall of Famer who will always be known not only for his bowling talents, but the incredible class he displays as an ambassador for our sport,” Cain said. “While this decision may not be the outcome some people hoped for, I ask that we can all come together and respect the conclusion. It is time to close this chapter and move forward.”

No it is not – that day will be when USBC admits the ABC’s mistake and corrects it.

Was Cain even born when Allison rolled the most amazing series in the history of bowling with his plastic Columbia Yellow Dot with a pancake weight block?

So much has been written about this subject over the years; we could put it all together and make a pretty good size book. Start with the July 15, 1982 issue of Sports Illustrated. A very comprehensive article written
by SI staff writer John Garrity spanned 15 pages; but it did not make the cover. The cover story was about boxer Sugar Ray Leonard’s retirement. Perhaps if the series had been approved, Glenn and bowling could have been honored with a cover photo…or perhaps it would not have been a big deal at all – controversy sells magazines.

It’s funny though – I don’t recall ever meeting anyone throughout my long career in bowling that has said “The American Bowling Congress got it right” concerning the Allison 900. There are probably a few who will defend what seemed like indefensible actions of ABC officials at the time, but very few.

July 1, 1982 could and should have been a glorious celebration of magnificent achievement by an extremely talented and Hall of Fame status bowling athlete; but instead it became a sour memory that festers to
this day, and may have done untold damage to the sport.

And if Andrew Cain believes that this latest denial of the denial of the denial will close the book on it, he is simply not old enough or informed enough to know that it will never die. Even if by some miracle some
strong leaders came along and did the right thing, the mistakes of the past will never be forgotten, and the damage can never be undone. But sadly, it now looks like it will not happen in Glenn Allison’s lifetime. He is now 84.

Throughout the ages, decisions have been made by governments and companies that turned out to be monumental; decisions that actually change history or have an effect on thousands or even millions that follow. Was the Allison decision another example?

I would argue that it was. In 1982, then ABC Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Burt Kellerman, who is the lane inspector who examined the lanes (the next day) and came to the conclusion that they were not in compliance with the rules said “Last year there were more than 12,000 awards in major categories, 298, 299, 300, and 800 Series. That’s 12,000 claims bowled under rules and requirements that met ABC standards. Only several hundred were
not approved for one reason or another.

In 2013, with only about 20% of the sanctioned players who enjoyed the sport in 1982 on the lanes, more than 50,000 perfect games were officially recognized by the USBC. (Who knows how many more 299s, 298s and 800s – and who cares?) And 24 players, none with credentials even close to those of Glenn Allison, have their names in the record book for twenty-five 900 series. Even a youth bowler in New York who claims he rolled two 900’s while blindfolded in the dark was given the OK…obviously not true, but close to the truth. (Actually, he claimed he had five 900s, but could only fool the USBC twice?)

In the 1930s, American Bowling Congress leaders recognized that scoring conditions were getting out of control. In fact, two 900 series were rolled in unofficial competitions, which spurred them to take action to prevent the sport from losing its credibility; and they were successful. Bowling survived those dark days, and flourished for many decades after those tough decisions were made.

Some would argue that 50 years later a similar opportunity came along for the sport’s governing body, but what seemed to be a war between the ABC and proprietors, and people like Bill Taylor, who was fiercely defending Allison, sent them in the opposite direction. Both sides were to blame, and both sides lost.

Was that the start of today’s problems? Did it result in an ‘anything goes’ attitude that has caused millions of once-loyal bowlers to abandon the sport and has mainstream America thinking that bowling is not a sport at all? It is as if the ABC threw up its arms, forgot its principles and responsibilities, and allowed proprietors and equipment makers to run wild.

We have heard over the years that bowling is still respected as a legitimate sport in other parts of the world, but when we attended the World Coaches Conference this year, coaches from around the globe said that
what happens in America does not stay here; they are also having problems and are as concerned as we are.

If Glenn Allison’s 900 had been approved and celebrated, and had bowling officials at the time been smart enough and tough enough to recognize that scoring may have been a big factor in bowler numbers starting to head south, bowling might be in much better shape today. It might be seen as a mainstream sport. It is still a wonderful business and recreation, but would it have reached Olympic sport status? Would the PBA still be on network
television? Would the new PWBA have a better chance for success? Would Joe Bowler proudly show off his 300 ring?

I wonder if every member of the USBC Board of Directors read the Sports Illustrated story about the Allison 9000 written in 1982 before making this recent decision. If true, the story uncovered that the score may
have been denied because there were abnormalities in a place on the lanes that had no bearing on the ball path; and I know from personal experience that can happen because I had a 300 turned down in 1977 and was told that the oil on the
left side of the lane did not comply. When I appealed saying that I was not left handed, it did not matter. They got me on a technicality. Maybe the same thing happened to Glenn a few years later?

And it wasn’t just Bill Taylor who defended Allison in 1982 and objected to the decision. Fellow Hall of Famers Earl Anthony and Andy Marzich and many others also weighed in (as told to SI):

Andy said that he was distressed that a bowler’s achievements could be wiped out by a ball point pen. “My opinion is that when a bowler comes into a bowling center for an ABC sanctioned league, he comes in good faith. He’s paid his dues. So when he bowls a score, I feel he should be sanctioned automatically. If there is something wrong, the ABC should punish the bowling center, not the bowler.” (Amen!)

Marzich, who was Allison’s team mate on the famous Falstaff Team, said he was against high scores, but implied that Allison’s character may have been a factor in the decision. “My good buddy Glenn would not lie to anybody, and it is his opinion that those weren’t tricked lanes. He’s bowled plenty of ‘em in St. Louis, in Chicago, wherever. If he feels they were honest, I’ve got to go with Glenn.”

Finally a few observations from my fellow scribes who actually covered the Allison 900 “Story of the Century”:

Charlie Allen was covering bowling for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch at the time and he actually traveled to California to see LaHabra 300 Bowl and talk to the people and officials involved.

“I disagreed with the ABC ruling then as I do now,” said Allen.

“I interviewed Mr. Allison about his accomplishment for a Dispatch story. I am probably one of the few bowling writers who actually visited La Habra 300 Bowl.

Of course I spoke with Mr. Allison in addition to the center proprietor and the manager who was there when the 900 series was bowled. I have copies of the lane graphs and associated reports for the decision.

In my opinion, not only did the ABC err in their decision based on the facts, but they had the opportunity to recognize a bowler with great credentials as the first to score 900.”

The late great Joe Lyou was working for the Los Angeles Mirror in 1982 and had this to say in 2006 after Bowlers Journal Magazine established the Glenn Allison Award:

“Allison, one of the most popular bowlers to come out of South California, holds no grudges against the ABC or USBC. As a matter of fact, he has been – and still is – a Bowling Ambassador for the USBC.

He says ‘I’ve gotten a lot more publicity because the ABC turned down my 900 than if they had approved it.’”

Lyou also joked “You know what I’d pay to see? An old-fashioned home-and-home match between the 73-year-old Glenn Allison and 17-year-old Robert Mushtare. My money would be on ‘Mr. 900.’ The original one, that is.”

And finally, our friend Jim Dressel, editor of Bowlers Journal for more than 35 years, the man who wrote about the 900 many times and always supported Allison. He was primarily responsible for creating the BJI
Glenn Allison Award. In 1982, he actually accompanied Glenn to ABC Headquarters for the official appeal of the decision.

“It was very emotional”, said Dressel. “When the appeal was unsuccessful, Glenn cried. They made a grown man cry. To me proved how badly he wanted to get that official recognition.”

It seems to me that if the USBC wanted to spend time looking into the Allison 900 again they should have done it with the intention of reversion what almost everyone agrees was a bad decision for bowling. They
should have been looking for any evidence that anybody connected to the case intentionally did anything wrong; and if they found nothing, they should have found a way to right the wrong.

As for it “impacting other denied scores” – remind me how many 900’s were shot during that era? I know I will gladly give up my 300 award (that I never got) to see Glenn get what he deserves.

For USBC to continue to say the same things that have been said before is a waste of time – and it just kicks the can down the road and links them back to the bad ‘ol days of the past.

Is it over? Not by a long shot.

Article was posted with permission from Stars & Strikes, America's Bowling Newsmagazine.