Bowling in Kokomo  -  1916 to 1920 -- Hunger for Competition


Now that the first sanctioned leagues were organized, starting handicaps had to be determined for the City League. Fair handicaps were determined by making all bowlers roll nine games in match competition. Prize money was offered as a motivation for bowlers to roll their best. Initial handicaps were calculated from the bowlers’ average for the nine games.

The Gerhart Brothers team won the City League that first season. They won 49 games and only lost 11 games. Members of that team were Carl Maudlin, Homer Kilbuck, Harry O. Davis, Claude Jones and Walter Jones. Maudlin led the league with a 191 average. Kilbuck was second with 183.

The Industrial League champions were the Haynes team. They won 64 games and lost 17. This team consisted of Carl Heady, Russell Kelley, C. Walker, "Skeeter" Davis and George Elliott. Homer Kilbuck led in average with 185. Second was George Mullen with 184. Mullen had high game for the season with a 246 and Kilbuck had high series with a 628.

Mullen, a Wabash native, was a star baseball pitcher for Detroit in the American League. In 1909 he won 29 games and outhit teammate Ty Cobb. In 1916, in the twilight of his career, he became playing manager for the Kokomo Red Sox minor league team.

The Gerhart Brothers team participated in the 1917 ABC tournament in Grand Rapids. John F. Garrett replaced Walter Jones for the ABC trip. Garrett was an excellent bowler from Peru. Although the Gerhart team finished out of the money with a team score of 2663, Garrett was hot in the doubles event. He shot an ABC record 721 series on games of 248, 258 and 215. Garrett’s 721 was two pins lower than an earlier mark of 723 rolled with a "loaded" ball which was subsequently banned.

Garrett also bowled with the Gerhart team in the state tournament in Fort Wayne. He finished tied for second in the singles event with an excellent score of 674.

Kokomo bowlers were eager for competition as was evident by their participation in many tournaments. In addition to the city, state and ABC tournaments, there were sweepstakes tournaments held at Menig Alleys on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days. A factory cup tournament was held to provide competition among the local factories.

An individual challenge match competition was organized with a medal going to the winner. Any bowler could challenge the champion. If they won, they became the new champion. At the end of the season, anyone that had been the champion rolled in a 6 game tournament to determine the overall champion. Carl Maudlin won that initial event in 1919 by averaging nearly 205 for the six games.

More women began participating, although not in leagues. Ladies days were held about once a week at Menig’s Alleys. There was also a match in which five married women defeated five unmarried women. Mrs. Swigart rolled 508 for the three games. Not bad considering women’s leagues were still about 15 years away.

In January, 1920, Kokomo held its first bowling exhibition when "Count" John Gengler came to town. Gengler was one of the leading bowlers of the world. He had six 300 games and at one time had thrown 34 strikes in a row. In a 60 game match, bowled in Buffalo and Chicago, he averaged 224.

Gengler packed Menig Alleys to capacity. He bowled against four of Kokomo’s best bowlers, defeating them all. Harry O. Davis, KBA president, held a sizable lead against Gengler but eventually lost 608 to 605. Gengler’s other victims were Leroy Kulow II, Carl Maudlin and Claude Jones. Gengler averaged 213 for his 12 games. Even more amazing was that the "Count" only used a one-step delivery. One of his trick shots was throwing a palm ball, that is, without putting his thumb or fingers in the ball.

You never know what you will come across or learn when doing research. I will conclude some of these history articles with a trivia question of something I learned not related to bowling. The trivia question for this month is: "What event was added to track and field meets during World War I?"

The answer is provided in the article for the next time period.


Kokomo Bowling Association had Woman Secretary in 1918

In 1918, about 20 years before the Kokomo Women’s Bowling Association would be formed, a woman became secretary of the men’s association. Here is how it happened.

In December, 1917, Eldrew D. Cissell resigned his position as secretary/treasurer of the Kokomo Bowling Association to take a new job in Frankfort.

A special KBA meeting was held to elect a new secretary/treasurer. This person would also serve as league secretary for the City League and Industrial League. President George Strout encouraged all teams to be represented.

Mrs. Homer Wallans was elected by a 6 to 4 vote over J. M. Maxwell. She served out the remainder of Cissell’s term. Dick Hartley was elected to replace Mrs. Wallans at the next regular election.

A woman has not held a KBA office since. History has a way of repeating itself. With the ABC and WIBC developing common rules and procedures, it is possible that some bowling associations around the country will have a single secretary for the men and women. Could it happen in Kokomo? It is not likely in the near future with two very active associations. But who knows what the next hundred years will bring. It could happen again!