Kokomo’s Perfect 300 Games


The dream of every bowler is to shoot a perfect 300 game. Many excellent bowlers have spent a lifetime trying to achieve this goal. You do not have to be a high average bowler to accomplish the feat, although it is an advantage. Most bowlers say that you need a little luck to get that 300 game. Throwing 12 balls in the pocket does not guarantee success. This column's topic is the 300 games that have been bowled in Kokomo.

Before we get into the local 300’s, here is a little trivia from "The Bowlers’ Almanac" regarding 300 games.

Pete Weber, now a PBA touring professional, bowled a 300 game in his first game of sanctioned competition. This occurred in 1978 when Pete was only 15.

The lowest series with a 300 game was a menial 476. Reed Townley of Gadsen, Alabama rolled this interesting score in 1989. Reed had games of 89, 87 and 300. Diane Ponza of Santa Cruz, California rolled a 300 game with an average of 112. On the men’s side, Roger Evans of Champaign, Illinois accomplished the feat on an average of 127. These occurrences should give everyone some hope.

On at least two occasions, bowlers have recorded perfect games with 12 "Brooklyn" strikes, where the ball crosses over the head pin and hits the "wrong" pocket.

Leanne Barrette and Tish Johnson of the Ladies Professional Bowlers Tour have each rolled six 300 games in a single season. Dayton, Ohio bowler Michael Whalin holds the men’s record with 12 perfectos in a season. Michael also holds the all-time record with nearly 50 perfect games in his career. Wow!

In the last six months, new WIBC and ABC records were set for the oldest bowler to roll a 300 game.

For the women, Nashville’s Nora Martin reached perfection on January 14, at the age of 70.

For the men, San Diego’s Joe Norris, an ABC Hall-of-Famer, rolled his perfect game at age 86! This was Joe’s second perfect game. When he rolled his first 300 game, he was the youngest to do so. It came at age 18, in 1927. The 67 year span between 300’s is also a record.

That is enough of trivia for now. Next, let’s discuss Kokomo's high game performances.

There were no sanctioned 300 games in the first twenty years of the Kokomo Bowling Association. However, these years were not without bowling excitement or high games.

First, let’s talk about the non-sanctioned games; the games not recognized by the ABC because they were not rolled in ABC league play.

Five years after the 1916 formation of the Kokomo Bowling Association, George Cryer powered a 289 game and Homer Kilbuck a 290 game.

Bob Leffert had the first shot at 300 when he shot 296 in March 1923. George Haseltine relates that Bob used to bowl a lot by himself, rolling 10 games at a time. Bob eventually became the first bowler to roll a 300 on December 20, 1924, in a non-sanctioned match against Homer Kilbuck. In a touch of folklore, Bob threw that ball to a watery grave in the Wildcat Creek a number of weeks later. Bob just couldn’t seem to throw strikes with that ball anymore. He thought he had used them all up in his 300 game. The Wildcat Creek would not hold the ball for long, however. This ball must have gotten one of the Wildcat’s nine lives. George Haseltine still has the Tribune article written about 2 years after Bob’s 300. That summer, the Wildcat Creek was being dredged and, unbelievably, they came across Bob’s bowling ball. It is not known what Bob did with the ball after it was rediscovered.

Joe Fohn, one of the top bowlers in Kokomo in the 1920’s, also rolled a 300 game in October 1929 in a team challenge match. His Van Dam Cigars team defeated the Uptown Recreation team in Indianapolis.

Now let’s get to the ABC-sanctioned high games. In the 1921/22 season, Albert Cryer rolled a sanctioned 288 game. In 1927, Harry Schneiderman, another one of Kokomo’s top bowlers at that time, rolled a fine 289 game. The first sanctioned attempt at perfection occurred when Greentown physician, Dr. Walter W. Gipe rolled a 298 game in November 1928. He left a baby split on his last ball, just missing perfection. Dr. Gipe was an excellent athlete, having been a member of the Wabash College football team that handed Notre Dame a home defeat in 1905.

On March 25 1937, veteran bowler Charlie Burk was next to have a chance at perfection. Charlie threw the first eleven strikes to set up the drama. The newspaper reported that an excited spectator called out to Charlie just as he was about to deliver the ball. His disrupted shot knocked down only six pins for a 296 game.

The next opportunity came on April 21 1937. Kokomo Bowling Hall of Famer Fred Hurstel had the first ten strikes only to get tapped on a perfect Brooklyn pocket hit. Hurstel ended up with a fine 288 game. The writer for the Tribune bowling column recognized the event and stated "Tough luck, kid, you’ll make her someday!". Little did the columnist know how prophetic his words would be. Only eight months later, Fred struck paydirt.

The first sanctioned 300 game was rolled by Kokomo Hall-of-Famer Fred Hurstel.

The setting for the event was the old Recreation Alleys. The Recreation Alleys had six lanes upstairs and six lanes downstairs. Fred was bowling upstairs on lanes 3 and 4, the highest scoring pair in the facility. Kokomo Bowling Association Hall-of-Famer Don Lowry was bowling downstairs in another league the same night. Don would be in a position to witness the historic event. According to Don and George Haseltine, Fred Hurstel had a smooth and stylish delivery. He had a 5-step approach with average ball speed and an average to above average amount of hook. He looked like a great bowler. On this special night, he would perform like a great bowler.

On December 22, 1937, Hurstel had the first nine strikes, all perfect in the pocket. Practically everyone in the Recreation Alleys was watching as Fred stepped up for the tenth frame. He nonchalantly stepped up and rolled a perfect strike. Only two more for history! On his eleventh ball, Fred hit the pocket a little thin. It appeared that the 7 pin would stand, but Freddie got good pin action and carried the pin on a rebound. Only one more strike for history! There would be no stopping Freddie this time. He rolled his twelfth and final ball as if it were the first ball of a new game. He hit the one-three pocket with enough power to knock down twenty pins. The thrill swept through the crowd as the last pins went flying in that history making game. Hurstel would later receive an ABC gold medal for the feat at a special dinner given in his honor.

Harold Kettlehut rolled the second perfect game in 1941. Harold had come close on three previous occasions. His accomplishment came as he rolled for the Kokomo Tribune team in the scratch City League bowling on lanes 11 and 12 at the Evans Bowling Academy. Don Lowry was Captain of that Tribune team. Don states that Harold was a power bowler who could really fire the ball. He also had enough "stuff" on the ball to be able to throw it out to the track area and bring it back. Russell Maudlin remembers Kettlehut as a "helluva good bowler." Interestingly, Don Lowry started the same game with the first seven strikes but couldn’t maintain Kettlehut’s pace.

It was a long 20 year wait until Kokomo’s third perfect game. It was stroked by Kokomo Hall of Famer Ray Cameron in 1961. Ray was 32 years young and had only been bowling six years. Ray was one of the best bowlers in Kokomo in the 1960’s and early 70’s. He rolled his second 300, and only Kokomo’s eighth, five years later to become the first Kokomo bowler to roll multiple 300 games. Today, Ray is a member of the Kokomo Bowling Hall-of-Fame and is still an active and excellent league bowler.

Other bowlers to roll 2 or more perfect games in Kokomo are Dan Gibson, Danny Preston, Steve Preston, Gerard Kelley, Jon Dieterman, Gary Exmeyer, Dave McDorman, Bill Schultz and Fred Douglas II. Of this list, only Steve Preston was left-handed. Also, Steve and Jon Dieterman bowled their games at different bowling centers. The other duplicate 300’s were bowled in the same center. Of the 64 perfect games, only seven were by left-handers. The lefties responsible were Jeff Wood, Jerry Rosselot, Steve Preston, Jon Kelley, Bob Dunn and Sam Terrell. Who says lefties have an advantage? In reality, this figure is reasonable when considering the percentage of left-handed bowlers.

When Wayne Burthay rolled his 300 game 3 weeks ago, it represented the 65th sanctioned 300 game in Kokomo. How did those 300 games occur by decade? There was one 300 in the 1930’s, one in the 40’s, none in the 50’s, six in the 60’s, four in the 70’s, 21 in the 80’s and already 32 in the 90’s. The Kokomo Bowling Association has had at least one 300 game each season since the 1977/78 season. The 1991/92 season saw the most excitement with 10 perfect games.

Where have the most 300’s occurred? The most 300’s have been shot at Cedar Crest Lanes with a total of 26 perfect games. Don Lowry Lanes East, previously Astro Bowl, has seen a total of 21. Don Lowry Lanes, now Don Lowry Lanes West, has seen 10 perfect games

Kokomo bowlers have rolled additional 300 games away from their home bowling centers. Kokomo bowling great Don Johnson had many 300 games but none were sanctioned in Kokomo. In recent history, Ron Harding powered a 300 game in the 1993 State tournament in Fort Wayne.

Look elsewhere in this Web site for the up-to-date list of Kokomo's perfect games.

Special appreciation goes to the American Bowling Congress for their help in identifying dates for some of the 300 games so that Kokomo Tribune articles could be located. Also, thanks to Kokomo Bowling Association Secretary Dave Turner for compiling the complete listing. Also, thanks to Don Lowry, George Haseltine and Russell Maudlin for their recollections from Kokomo’s bowling past.