North American Bowling News

Reminiscences Down Duckpin Memory Lane

Just to re-iterate...

The purpose of the North American Bowling News is two-fold. Of primary importance is to bring its readers news of what's going on in the bowling worlds of the many variations of the 'round ball with pins' sport. But of equal substance to the magazine's informational value is that it's also a method of recording events that have their own places in bowling history, whether high-profile, or of a secluded nature. These events, while maybe not listed in the record books, do deserve to be recorded somewhere for future generations to recall.

This editor recently learned of an incredible chain of events that occurred many years ago on the duckpin pro tour. One of the DPBA's former members, George Stonesifer, related an event worthy of the old "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column.

The "Doppelganger"

Back in the 1970s, Stonesifer was rolling in the preliminary round of a duckpin pro event and scored his highest career game on the pro tour—a mammoth 248 effort. But in an extremely uncanny parallel, George had noticed that further down on a distant pair of lanes another bowler had strung a huge game of his own. Astonishingly, the bowler, whose name isn't available at this time but best should be described as a "doppelganger" (or a para- normal 'double') to George, had matched Stonesifer's game, frame by frame, and mark for mark, achieving the exact same line score— counts and all—to end up with a mirror image game of 248—truly a 'one in a million' occurrence for the sport of duckpins. And to add to the peculiarity of the day, Stonesifer related that the Maryland 'Pick 3' lottery number for that evening would end up being '248'! Totally bizarre!!

Paul Mitchell's Phenomenal Run

The Stonesifer account undoubtedly heads this edition's list of strange coincidences. However, a separate event that this editor happened to have the good fortune of seeing in person was a phenomenal individual effort from two dozen years ago, back in 1988. Fontana Bowlarama in Takoma Park, Maryland—a 2-level center with 48 lanes—was one of the landmark houses in Maryland up until it closed around 1994. The prime league in the center was a 24-team, Monday Night '415' Major League (Scratch) Triples.

To best put the following historic incident into proper perspective, as we venture back in time, we first must stop and take note of the fact that there was a highly unusual 4-way tie for first place heading into the final week's position night. The league was loaded with strong teams, one of them being a full team of bowlers from the lower scoring Falls Church Bowling Center in Virginia. Those local duckpinners to the Washington Metro area will recognize the names Charles Rinker, Keith Eastman, and Kenny Brooks, which comprised the grouping that was averaging a stout 434 by league's end. This Virginia unit was one of the teams involved in the 4-way tie on the position night, and for the moment was sitting atop the league in first place due to possessing significantly higher pinfall. With about 3 weeks left to play, the Falls Church team had gained a 2 to 3 game stranglehold over the rest of the league and was set to face Jeff Pyles' team. The Pyles team included lead-off man, Paul Mitchell at a 140 average, and Joe Bernarding at 123. Even with Jeff's 153 average, the team was a decided underdog, and to make things worse, Pyles was unable to attend bowling that night, so the team had to settle for a lesser substitute. Paul Mitchell decided to move down to the anchor spot, and without Pyles, the strong Virginia team was undoubtedly at a greater advantage.

Mitchell was a most capable bowler, but quite unorthodox, to say the least. He was a 'happy-go-lucky' type, somewhat short in stature, and on the stocky side. He didn't zip the ball at all, but would get the ball a short distance out in front of him on the lane with a little bit of turn on the ball and would let it work for him. Some of today's bowlers might consider Paul's 'control' style as having 'nothing on the ball'—but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Additionally, one of the peculiarities of Paul Mitchell's delivery was that at the beginning of his setup and for 2 to 3 steps into his approach, he'd hold the ball with both hands, cocked behind his head—reminiscent of the old-style basketball free-throw shooters. During his march to the foul line, Paul would bring the ball down in about his 3rd or 4th step and then naturally into his wind-up to deliver the ball.

The matchup against the team from Virginia was the ultimate, classic contrast in styles—the polished, forceful deliveries on the one side vs. what seemed to be the awkward and non-chalant style of Paul Mitchell. Little did anyone know what was about to ensue.

In what could appropriately be described as a case of unassumingly wearing down the opponent, Mitchell put on the most spectacular 'run' this editor has ever witnessed, in which he rolled 23 consecutive marks which started sometime early in the first game, and ended around the 7th frame of Game 3. His middle game was an unstoppable 227 effort, and in what later had to be demoralizing, his 23rd mark was a conversion of the 5-7 split. In Paul's attempt for a 24th straight mark, he again was met with another split, the 5-7-10 this time. Again in textbook fashion, Mitchell slid the 5 pin into the 7, but couldn't get the wall action necessary to take out the 10-pin. By this time, with his team responding to his eventual league high series of 545, the match was decided in which Mitchell's team gained a sweep at a most unfortunate time of the season for the team from Falls Church.

Although, Mitchell's team wasn't a contender for the league championship, this night affected the outcome of the league, as the winning team by season's end would ultimately be the unlikely 4th place team that was involved in the 4-way tie heading into the position round on the final night. Experienced veteran, Billy Moore, rolled a 543 series in the matchup of 3rd and 4th place teams to gain a sweep, winning the league championship for his team by 1 game.

A significant footnote to the career of Paul Mitchell was that this wasn't the only time that he went on a major tear. Not too long after the Fontana league, Paul again made history by adding his name to the elite "600" Club, as he rolled a 600 series, on the nose, at White Oak Lanes.

The Laugh Was On Us

Once during this editor's tenure at Fontana Bowlarama, a funny thing happened. My team was involved in a match against one of the superb duckpinners in the sport's history, Leroy Christian.

Leroy was an extremely accurate bowler, although he was hearing impaired. It was a close game, and teammate, Dave Triplett, and myself were done bowling and sitting at the scoretable watching the finish. Christian was the anchorman on the opposing team and needed a spare on his foundation 9th frame strike to beat us. Leroy rolled another strike for the double to clinch the game. He then came back to the end of the approach, bent down to face the two of us, completely changed his facial expression to that of being sad, and motioned by putting his left and right index fingers under each eye, and then dragged his fingers downward, indicating that we should be crying because he beat us. Being a generation older than us, he probably figured it was a perfect opportunity to good-naturedly 'rub it in' on a couple of youngsters. It was such an unexpected maneuver that we couldn't help but to explode with laughter.

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