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AN EARLY BREAKER OF THE COLOR BARRIER
DON SCOTT BOWLED ON TOUR, REPPED AMF AND SPREAD THE GOOD WORD ABOUT BOWLING.

FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH. That makes it a good time to remember one of bowling's pioneer African-American pros, Don Scott.

A native of Cleveland, Scott learned his bowling as a teenage pinboy in Akron. He began making a name for himself in local leagues and money matches during the 1950s. He also won a number of events sponsored by The National Bowling Association, the black-oriented group created during ABC's segregated days.

When the PBA was launched, Scott was one of the first blacks to join. His proudest moment on Tour came in 1961. The premier PBA event then was the National Championship, and that year it was being held in Cleveland. Charging out of the box in front of a hometown crowd, Scott topped the qualifying field of 192 entries. He finished ninth in the tournament.

The 1960s were a time of transition for America. Many large businesses, which had long ignored the African-American community, suddenly awoke to the fact that there was a large, untapped market out there. With his tournament successes and outgoing personality, Scott was a natural choice to spread the gospel of bowling. AMF signed him to its advisory staff to roll exhibitions and conduct clinics, and the Cleveland based Carling Brewery hired him for similar work.

In 1964, Scott became the first African-American to appear on the "Championship Bowling" TV show. The series was at the peak of its popularity, and carried at least as much prestige as the still new PBA Tour. "We bowled in Akron, and Harvey Firestone from the tire company was one of the sponsors," Scott remembers. "He told [the producers] that he had a lot of black customers who were buying his tires, and they got the message. It came down to J. Wilbert Sims and me. I had been competing around Ohio, and most of the white bowlers knew me. AMF was sponsoring the show, I was with AMF, so I got the nod."

Admittedly nervous, Scott still did respectably. He bowled against two future Hall of Famers, George Howard and Carmen Salvino, beating Howard and losing to Salvino. His 1216 sixgame total put him in the middle of the show's 24 man standings.

Though he belonged to the PBA for nearly 20 years, Scott never bowled a full Tour schedule. He had a bowling center and other businesses to run in Cleveland, and didn't have much free time. So he stuck to those events "a tankful of gas away" in places like Detroit, Buffalo and Waukegan.

Besides, the competition was getting tougher. "When I first went out there, if you carried a 203 or 204 average like I did, you cashed," Scott says. "Then it started to go up to 205, 206, 211, 212, just to cash. I was still about the same, but instead of cashing, now I was on page eight of the standings."

Scott recalls very little racism from his PBA days. The other bowlers were generally welcoming and supportive. Scott remembers one episode with a chuckle. He was sitting at the lunch counter of a tournament venue in Miami, and the waitress repeatedly ignored him. Scott happened to mention it to Bill Allen, one of the Tour's leading stars and a native Southerner.

"Allen got really excited," Scott says. "He told me, 'You don't have to put up with this! We're going to tell Eddie [Elias]! We don't have to stay here!' I finally had to tell him, 'But, Bill, it was a black waitress.'"

Scott eventually moved on from bowling into other ventures. For more than 30 years, he operated what became the country's largest black owned nightclub. He and his wife Vel raised three children, who "never caused me the grief I caused my parents," and who carved out successful professional careers of their own.

In 2000, Don Scott received the Congressional Black Caucus's "Unsung Hero Award" to honor his bowling achievements. He still lives in Cleveland, and plans to get copies of his old "Championship Bowling" matches "so my grandkids can show off to their friends."