My USBC Hall of Fame speech transcript:
I would like to start off first by saying congratulations to all other recipients this evening and thank you to the Hall of Fame Board with my nomination, and all the USBC members who voted for my induction.
My journey to this Hall has had many bends in the road for which I would have not travelled differently. Induction into the USBC Hall of Fame is quite often a goal many set out early in the bowling careers to achieve. This was not the case for me early on. But, in my education on my way to my Master’s degree over the past 10 years, I have reflected upon the concept of family honor. It was with this concept I realized I had no choice but to move forward toward completing my 20 years of bowling competition mandatory to qualify, not for me but for the honor of my bowling family. For all of those who worked so hard to position me with my success.
As a young girl I was raised in the spirit of sports and competition. I had a dream to become a champion. In third grade homeroom, at 9 years old, I sat amongst a sea of boys all wanting to be the next Jim Plunkett, Larry Bird, Gordy Howe, Carl Yastrzemski. I wanted to be a professional bowler. I had never seen a professional woman bowler; I only watched my idols on Saturday afternoons on television. I would sit with my father at home at 3pm Saturdays and would watch people like Nelson Burton Junior, Earl Anthony, Mark Roth, Steve Cook, Marshall Holman and others compete on ABC television. At show close, we would then collect our single ball bags and head to our 24-lane Shaker Bowl in my hometown in East Longmeadow Massachusetts, usually wait about an hour for a lane, and then bowl a few games. I would compete against my father, always trying to throw a better shot. Saturdays in general were the most important day of my youth.
I looked forward to being the star on Saturday morning junior league, not a faceless person in a crowd from school. I received positive attention here. I would prefer this over cartoons for ten years. As a teenager this was also my most important day for tournaments, and even though I was the best in my area I wanted more. I wanted to be listed in the AJBC Youth Magazine, a nationwide connection to invisible competitors who did not know me: I would see the names of the Romeos, “Letitia Johnson,” Aleta Sill, Dede Davidson, Leanne Barrette, the Dorins, Nikki Gianulias, Donna Adamek, all grace the standings with their high games and series and titles and college scholarships. I was a 150 average bowler still in handicap divisions with big dreams. I never won a Junior Bowlers Tour tournament, where I competed against up and coming stars my age like Lisa Maurice, Mike Lichstein, Chris Viale, Parker Bohn, Becky Kregling. I wasn’t good enough. My parents were working class people, and being involved in more than one passion was too much money. At 13 years old my parents saved all year to be able to send me to junior bowling camp to improve. It was here I saw some of the names in the magazines honing their own skills, I watched dedication in action. But I was still ‘average’ in comparison to most kids there. Then a spark: the camp host pro bowler Bill Spigner, looked me in the eye and said I could be one of the best, a pro bowler, if I worked very hard. And I believed him well before I believed in myself, and this encouragement helped to drive me forward. From here I carefully developed an eye to watch others in their success and failure. I learned how each day was important in improving upon the process, becoming a student of the sport. This was my education, at that time more important than any college degree, but education nonetheless. Very early on I also learned the importance of giving back by teaching others as well. My favorite junior league coach Effy Slanetz’s patience and art of communicating positive words, my father’s consistent presence, my fellow junior competitors and their dedication to practice. I learned the basics HOW to teach others from Vesma Grinfelds at a Brunswick-sponsored coaching clinic at 16 years old. This was my early schooling from which I am forever grateful to be given the opportunity.
My father, my rock, the one who stood in the back for my junior successes and losses passed away suddenly when I was 20. It was his passing which taught me that earning a wage was less important than living life’s experiences when I can. My losing him gave me my first lesson in living in the moment, to really feel an experience and to not let it roll carelessly away to be lost. Pursue what I loved and the money would follow. He also taught me with his passing the importance of healthy living and having healthy relationships.
In the coming years I would begin on the pro tour and compete against the very names I had read about for years. I was in no way an instant success on the pro tour. With every small personal victory and defeat I would analyze what worked and did not work, and what it took to be successful. I have watched several videos of HOF speeches of many of my fellow competitors where they speak of how bowling and their team experience shaped their lives. For me, as an only child, a high-school loner, bowling was an individual sport which taught me it was OK to be an individual.
Pete Couture & I came from similar upbringings and similar paths. He too considered himself a loner. I watched him fight and scrap and squeeze every little bit emotionally and physically out of his bowling game with a passion for the sport I had never seen previously. He was cerebral, inventive and ready to work whenever necessary. I thank him tonight by leading me by example with an eye for the sport that was underrated by both him and his own contemporaries. I saw what was left after a tournament in him, both in success and in failure. If I could give him anything during that time we were together it was the respect to work as hard as he envisioned my own success. He taught me to both respect and enjoy the learning process, because as we know being at the top of this sport there is more in handling the losses than handling the successes, because the losses happen much more frequently in bowling. By luck I stumbled into a relationship with Pete which without; may have sent me on a completely different life path. I thank him for his patience, his hope to make me a better bowler, which helped me reach my best in my early years on tour. Through him I was able to be in the presence of some of the sport’s greats and learn from them as well: the Earl Anthonys and their practice regimes, the Dick Webers and their personalities to develop not just a better athlete but businessperson, the Walter Ray Williams and the ability to take science and apply it to bowling success, and many others.
I thank all the instructors through the years that helped me along my path: Pete Couture, Bill Spigner, Tom Kouros, Fred Borden, Richard Shockley, Ron Hoppe, Michelle Mullen, Jeri Edwards, Denny Torgerson… they either directly or indirectly through their presence helped to shape my bowling knowledge, my career, and the knowledge I could then pass on to other bowlers. They all taught me perseverance, positivity, and both how simple and how complicated this sport actually is.
To Bill Spigner: I have literally known the man longer than any other person connected today with my bowling. Meeting Bill and him having such a significant role in my junior bowling path, encouraging me to better my coaching skills, being there the week of my father’s passing, being there to pick up the coaching pieces left after Pete and I divorced, encouraging me to write and pass on my bowling knowledge in Bowling Digest were all important stepping stones for me along my bowling career. He has taught me by example that there is knowledge in the simple presence and quiet in which some of the most important lessons can be taught, that there is always more to be learned, the importance of due diligence in the evolution of bowling knowledge. I am again reminded the offering of presence is sometimes all which is necessary. You and Barb indirectly accepted me into your bowling family, for which I have become a better person because of it. You have made a difference in my life and I have watched you do so in so many other’s lives, and I thank you for all of this…
To Jack Bennett, Red Burnham, Sandy Finkelstein, Cindy Mazon, John Davis and Kegel Training Center: All leaders of the bowling centers I spent the majority of my bowling life: Your personal beliefs about the development of motivated bowlers and giving me all that free practice time in your centers helped me to become a better bowler for it, I cannot thank you enough for it. The financial cost of bowling is an expensive venture for anyone, and it’s these types of individuals who help not only me but others attempting to further in the sport.
There is an adage which is spoken of in the field of medicine which also is true for bowling. It is “see one, do one, teach one.” I have been fortunate to advance my lifelong education both on and off the lanes. My personal success was in part based upon my thirst of all types of knowledge and my pursuit for being the best I could be. Without the art and science of bowling knowledge I would not have become the bowler I did nor the nurse practitioner I am today. Education remains as vital today to advance the sport. And it is in the spirit of education that became my driving force toward a goal of HOF induction. Education has also been the vital part of my own transition into another career field. I thank all of my competitors, too many to name here, the LPBT/PWBA, the Women’s All Star Association: All of their existence allowed me the venue for this education. Without all the competitors and a professional tour pushing me every week to be better: None of us would have reached such new levels within the sport and now be able to pass on as much knowledge today from the experience of having it.
In my veteran years, my lifelong learning path has circled around now more to what I could give back to others with my experience. In doing so I also had the pleasure and the gift to once again see the passion of learning through younger bowlers eyes wanting the same. Elise Bolton came into my life with her family when she was 9 years old around 2004. I saw me again at 9 years old, and her presence became my indirect lifeblood to the sport in the years I would be away in pursuit of my new career as a nurse practitioner. Working with Elise and her bowling I have realized that my bowling family now spans many generations, and with it I realized I needed to bowl again, out of respect for myself, my bowling family and that family honor. It was not a choice, it was a requirement. They encouraged me to bowl again, first in league and then national tournaments with Elise. I am grateful to the Bolton family for this gentle encouragement these past 10 years or so.
Finally, my lifelong learning and success in this sport would not have been possible whatsoever without my husband Tommy. It was sheer luck or sheer fate that I read a Florida Today newspaper personal ad he placed, that he listened to my voicemail response to it, and that we would meet and fall in love. Not being a bowler was exactly what I needed for my own success. He picked up my pieces and got me back on the lanes in 1994 when I had almost given up bowling. He has kept me grounded all these years. His unique perspective has sometimes been looked upon by many to be hazardous in this sport, but I argue it is exactly what this sport needs, and it is individuals like him, those who think outside the box, think of what anything can be with focus, hard work, and an open mind to further the sport and themselves. He constantly pushes me and the envelope for personal success. Why not look at other athletes for mental strategy, why not bowl with two hands, why not cross over for a Brooklyn strike? Why not strike with a plastic ball? Why not bowl with a 14lb ball when needed? He has been my sounding board, lifted me up when sometimes many obstacles were in my way. He has often asked the questions I didn’t know were inside me or were afraid to ask, then sometimes leading to tears but also to tremendous personal growth. He reminds me regularly of life purpose, the greater good, and doing no harm. He has protected me from inevitable bad people or bad situations which also come with success along the way, and has reminded me there are lessons to be learned from these situations as well. Those in bowling that think that the only lessons that matter are from being on the lanes are mistaken. He has often gone misunderstood and underappreciated in this sport. But no difference, everything he has done with me and for me was for US, and my honor this evening also honors him and all those who helped me on my path to success. He relit what was only a small fire at that time about a dream to first become a nurse and then beyond. He has supported me in the days following September 11th, coaching me on various kitchen floors with the ins and outs of bowling ball layouts, drillings, IV starts, and practice patient code situations…always on the kitchen floors! He has believed in me more than I sometimes believed in myself that I could complete the 8 year marathon education to become a nurse practitioner. He also stayed quiet in my sabbatical from the sport, more or less supporting by non-support, but in recent days has admitted to me he is pleased I had made the decision to return because bowling will forever be a part of me and a part of us. We now as a family with our daughter Emma in tow can experience a fresh perspective together combining everything we only dreamed about just 13 years ago. I thank you and love you with all my heart.
It is also because of him that in 2003 I recalled my very first newspaper photo. And it was not of bowling success, it was one of me with a stethoscope in hand when I was just 5 years old. The photo reminded me of previous dreams, off the lanes as well as on the lanes. My bowling education and those lessons I took away from bowling continue to assist me daily on my continued path of lifelong learning and helping others in many ways. It is for this reason that the USBC Hall of Fame is important to me, and I thank all of those people who have helped me and voted for me in this honor.
(thanks to Randy Gulley for photos above, 2016)