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What Will the New PWBA Tour Look Like?

What Will the New PWBA Tour Look Like?

 Author: Jim Goodwin

I'm about to do something some might call foolish - revealing the ages of a large group of women.

I'm going to give you their ages to make a point . . . and they are not just women; they are athletes, most of whom once called bowling their profession; and age is a major factor for any athlete in any sport, although some of them seem almost ageless.

The purpose of this daring little exercise is to speculate about how many of the top professional women bowlers who supported the former Professional Women's Bowling Association tour will support the new PWBA Tour, slated to start in July. Because of Father Time and Mother Nature, it will be more likely we will see a lot of new names we have never seen before.

The PWBA Tour of old was a private company owned by bowling center proprietor John Sommer of Rockford, Illinois. It started in 1981 and ceased operation in 2003. Prior to that, the women's tour was owned by the players from its start in 1960 until it was rescued by Sommer from the brink of bankruptcy; much the same situation as the Professional Bowlers Association, started by Eddie Elias and owned by the players until Chris Peters bailed out an ailing men's tour in 2000.

Sommer's PWBA was started as the La- dies Pro Bowlers Tour (LPBT) and adopted the PWBA name and new logo in 1998. For all of those years, a Souvenir Tour Guide for fans was produced each year; and in the latter years, players were ranked and the top 25 were featured in a special section. Players not ranked were listed in the back of the book. Biography, stats, and personal info were shared on all players in the book and on the official PWBA website.

Personal information generally included the player's  date of birth, marital status, hobbies, etc. A few players did not like tell- ing their age, but almost all did because it is a vital stat for athletes in any sport.

The point here is that by the time the new tour starts, 12 years will have passed since the end of the former tour, which means that all of the former stars and regulars on that tour are now 12 years older, and almost all of them have moved on in their lives and careers; only a handful have remained active as full-time or part-time professional bowlers.

Since the 2003 tour season was cut short and no Tour Guide was produced, the 2002 season is the last to rank players and provide complete stats. The number one player in 2002 was Michelle Feldman. In 2003, the powerful right-hander was already a 10 year tour veteran with 11 titles. She won three of them in 2002 and was named Player of the Year. She added her 12th title in winning the final PWBA event in Dallas in

2003. When the tour stopped just as she was starting to dominate, she was 27 years old. Will she return to the new tour at age 39? Ironically, there were very few top players still in their 20's when the PWBA ceased operation in 2003 - besides Feldman, they were #8 ranked Liz Johnson (29), #10 ranked Tiffany Stanbrough(25), #15 ranked Brenda Norman(29), # 18 ranked Marcia Kamrowski(28), and #20 ranked Maxine Nable(26).

All of the others, with the exception of two, were in their 30's.  Hall of Famers Tish Johnson and Anne Marie Duggan were both 41, but still good enough to rank #12 and #16 among the top 25 in 2002. A few other stars had already left the tour before that final season, notably Robin Romeo, Jeanne Naccarrato, Dana Miller-Mackie, Cindy Coburn-Carroll, Cheryl Daniels, Nikki Gianulias, Aleta Sill, Lisa Wagner, Carol Norman, and Michelle Mullen to name a few. Many of these ladies and others in their age group might consider a run at the new tour should they decide to add a senior division or senior bonus awards; and the star power of their names with bowling fans would do the tour good.

A few more players must be mentioned, and all but one was ranked in the top 10 after the 2002 season. 

The number two player that year behind Michelle Feldman was Leanne Barrette, now  L eanne Hulsenberg. Over the years, Leanne kept her game in shape, and proved it when she won the 2011 Women's U.S. Open on special lanes set up inside Cowboys Stadium. Leanne is now 47 and family is her priority, but she still has the game to compete on al- most any condition.

Carolyn Dorin-Ballard will turn 51 during the first month of the new tour, but she has already said she plans to compete. Carolyn is probably the most intense player ever to compete on tour, and no one will ever forget her incredible 2001 season when she won seven of her 20 pro titles. She will be representing Turbo Bowling Products on the new tour, and they could not ask for a better ambassador. With her competitive spirit, we doubt she will miss many checks, or many finals.

Ranked #4 in 2002 was Kendra Gaines. She was 30 then, and poised to reap the rewards that so many others enjoyed in the prime years of her career, but fate intervened.

The #5 player from '02 is Wendy Macpherson. Wendy won the U.S. Open while still in high school, and when the tour folded she took her game to Japan, where she was so successful, they barred her from competition. At 47, she can still bowl with anyone.

Team USA Assistant Head Coach Kim Terrell-Kearney has nine pro titles including two U.S. Opens on her resume. Will USBC give her the time off to compete on a tour they are operating? And at 50, will she still have the desire?

Kim shares a first name with 2002's #7 player Kim Adler. They also have something else in common - both have small children to care for that they did not have to worry about when they were touring pros; the same goes for Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Leanne Hulsenberg, and maybe a few others.

Adler will be 47 when the new tour begins. She is now a registered nurse, and it might be difficult to find the time to compete, but it would be nice to see the 15 time champion on the lanes again.

Liz Johnson had 11 titles at age 29 in 2002. After the tour folded, she was the first woman to win a PBA Regional, and the first to make the TV finals. She won the 2009 USBC Queens and the 2013 Women's U.S. Open, and was picked for the USBC Hall of Fame this year.

Marianne DiRupo won eight titles in her 12 year career on tour; and when it was over, she used her college degree to become a teacher.  A gifted athlete, she played pro softball before becoming a pro bowler. She will be 48 when the new tour starts.

Tiffany Stanbrough, ranked #10, was the youngest player in the top 25 in 2002, and she proved that she deserved to be there by adding two more titles to the two she already had after winning Rookie of the Year hon- ors in 1999. This powerful lefty will be 37 for the new tour.

Finally, perhaps the most intriguing player from the 2002 top 25 is Kelly Kulick. She had no titles then, but was knocking on the door to rank #11. Many may be expecting Kelly to dominate the new tour, but at age 38, we are not so sure. But no matter what happens, Kulick will always own the most incredible single accomplishment in pro bowling history - winning the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions against the best male bowlers on the planet. For goodness sakes, she won 10 pro titles in a decade with no professional tour! In 2010, she won an ultimate triple crown - the PBA Tournament of Champions, The USBC Queens, and the Women's U.S. Open - in our view that was equal to Carolyn Dorin-Ballard's incredible 7-title season.

If there was an award for "best bowler of the 12 years without a tour" Kelly would win it hands down.

But let's don't get carried away thinking that well known players like Kelly Kulick or Liz Johnson will dominate the new tour. They will win a title or two or three, but it is far more likely that we will see names like Asbaty, Parkin, Pluhowsky, O’Keefe, Zavjalova, Guererro and many others in the winner’s circle. And hopefully, for the long term success of the new tour, many more who are making their mark in the college ranks.

 Article was Posted with Permission from Stars & Strikes, America's Bowling Newsmagazine.


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