Bowling in Kokomo -- 1965 to 1970


This month Bowling History covers the Kokomo bowling scene from 1965 through the completion of the 1969/70 season. Scoring in general declined. There were fewer documented 700 series. Three more 300 games were recorded. The two oldest bowling centers closed. Don Johnson won the premier event in professional bowling in dramatic fashion.


High Games

There was a slight decrease in the number of high games rolled, however, several perfect 300 games were recorded.

Loran Roberts ripped the pins for a 275 game. Bob Sebree and Mike Cardwell carded 276 games. Morrie Smith, Chet Reel, Don Pine and Ken Marner reeled in 277 games. Miller Bender, Don Fox and Dale Balmer tossed 278 games. Jim DeWitt nearly rolled a perfect game when he started with the first 9 strikes only to leave a 10-pin on his next ball. DeWitt finished with a 279 game. Also capturing 279 games were Bob Peele, Francis Fisher, Al Marner and Floyd Hooks.

Dave Jones had a closer call with perfection. He would also fall a little short after recording the first ten strikes. Jones finished with a 287 game. Conway Bridges recorded a 287 game also.

In March 1969, Clifton "Bunk" DeWitt just missed perfection for his second time when he rolled a 298 game at Sycamore Lanes.

Three bowlers successfully converted their perfect game opportunities.

Fred Taylor got the new year off to a wild start when he rolled a 300 game on January 1, 1966. Taylor was competing in the annual New Years Day doubles tournament at Sycamore Lanes.

On November 28, 1966, Ray Cameron made Kokomo bowling history again when he notched his second, and Kokomo's tenth, 300 game. Rolling in the Monday night Industrial League at Sycamore Lanes, Cameron was perfect in the middle game of his series. By doing so, Cameron became the first bowler to roll two sanctioned 300 games in Kokomo. It would be another 12 years before another bowler would match Cameron's feat.

Bill Louthan captured the final 300 game of this time period on September 24, 1968. Louthan, rolling in the Cross Town League at Sycamore Lanes, recorded what would be the last perfect game at Sycamore Lanes.


High Series

This time period only saw 10 documented 700 series compared to the 50 or so for the prior five year period.

Chet Reel's 730 series was the first in nearly 2 years when it was rolled in October 1966. Following Reel's lead, other 700 series were fired by Jim Leedy (713), Jack Currens (720), Ed Gibson (702), John Sutherin (712), Clifton "Bunk" DeWitt (708), George Tuggle (710), Tom Ayres (708), Ray Cameron (728) and Dale Balmer (733).


State Tournament

There were several notable State Tournament performances by Kokomo bowlers during this time period.

In the 1966 State Tournament in Lafayette, Vern Kirkman and Dale Padgett took 9th place money in doubles actual with their score of 1238. Gerald Bougher and Doyle DeWitt shot 1311 in doubles handicap. This score stood in 3rd place when rolled and ultimately finished 24th. Kirkman finished 24th in singles actual with 639. Don Johnson was not far behind with his 630. Kirkman also finished in 23rd in actual all-events with his score of 1846.

In the 1967 State Tournament in Hammond, two Kokomo doubles teams placed well. Jim Christie and Alan Harnish finished 7th in doubles handicap with 1342. Tom McKinley and Dale Balmer finished 21st with 1307. Christie and Harnish were in 2nd place at the time their score was posted. Christie's big 278 game on his 151 average boosted the team to their high finish.

In the 1968 State Tournament in Fort Wayne, Dave Sink and Ron Gilbert finished 4th in doubles handicap with 1333.

In the 1969 State Tournament in Muncie, Wayne Ammerman finished 10th in singles handicap with 703.

In the 1970 State Tournament in South Bend, Clifford Cogar finished 29th in singles handicap with 698. Cogar also finished with 1792 in all-events actual.


City Tournament

Local bowlers capturing actual city titles included John Evans, Dick Johnson, Jim Fisher, Ralph Densborn, Dorval Miller, Jack Currens, Conway Bridges, Robert Cottingham, Jim DeSchamps, Fred Stout, Ray Cameron, Dick Newton, Bill Humphrey, Charlie Lucas, Fred Taylor, Dick Winkler and Jim DeWitt.

Densborn was the only bowler to capture singles, doubles and all-events actual titles in this time period. As was stated earlier, scoring was lower locally during this time period. Further evidence is the 602 singles actual winning score by Dick Johnson in the 1967 tournament.


Other Tournaments

Fred Taylor won the 1965 Indiana/Kentucky UAW tournament at Raceway Lanes in Indianapolis with his handicap score of 744. Taylor shot an actual score of 694 for the win.

Ed Gibson and Everett Newburn won the 1966 Holiday Doubles tournament at Sycamore Lanes with their 1343 handicap score. Gibson fired a 675 actual to lead the team. Leroy Burdine and Dick Winkler captured the 1969 tournament.

Kokomo hosted 168 teams for the State Knights of Columbus tournament at Cedar Crest in 1966.

In November 1965, Jim Fisher finished 5th and Don Johnson 8th in the State BPAA finals. This qualified them for the national finals in Lansing, Michigan.

Carl Babb finished 6th in the 1967 BPAA state finals to earn a berth in the national finals.

In 1967, Charlie Miller and Dick Cox won the Junior Order of United American Mechanics tournament with their score of 1309 handicap. Miller was 77 years old at the time!

In the 1970 American Legion State Tournament hosted by Kokomo at Play Bowl, Michigan City resident Earl Wilson excited the crowd with a 298 game.



The Stroh's team came to town for an exhibition at Cedar Crest in November 1966. A group of Kokomo's finest bowlers almost beat the mighty Stroh's team in a close match 2930 to 2877. The Kokomo team consisted of Tom Ayres, Dan Gibson, Chet Reel, Jim Fisher and Dick Conwell. Ayres' 648 and Gibson's 596 series led the team.

Kokomo must have done a good job motivating the Stroh's team for only three months later Stroh's would set the high team game record of 1291 and team series record of 3586!


PBA Tour

Don Johnson continued to bowl very well on the professional tour.

After Johnson finished 2nd in the prestigious Firestone Tournament of Champions in 1967, the mayor proclaimed the following Friday as "Don Johnson" day. For the event, Johnson received a "key to the city" and participated in a match against "Jayne Mansfink" alias Chuck "Ears" Lucas. What I would give for a video of that match!!

Johnson also rolled matches against five local bowlers who qualified for the opportunity. Local bowlers enjoying the challenge were Cameron, Jim Fisher, Ed Sparling, Wendell Hollingsworth and Harold Welliver.

In April 1967 the PBA Tour announced that a professional event was coming to Kokomo in the fall. Sponsored by Schlitz beer, the event consisted of 91 pros and 5 amateurs.

Local pros Johnson and Carl Babb participated. Local amateurs Jim Fisher, Tom Ayres and Jim DeSchamps competed in the main tournament. These amateurs were averaging 195, 200 and 208, respectively.

Billy Hardwick won the event with local favorite Johnson finishing in 9th.

A pro-am event was also held to help make for a financially successful tournament. Tournament organizers had to "beg, plead and pray" for entries into the pro-am. Eventually a reasonable level of participation was achieved but not as much as forecasted. For this reason, the tournament was not held the following year.

In April 1970, Don Johnson finally won the Firestone Tournament of Champions. He did so in unforgettable fashion. Johnson had tallied the first nine strikes in his match against Dick Ritger. Ritger was rolling a high game of his own. Johnson needed the first strike in the tenth frame to lock up the match. He buried that one for the $25,000 first place prize. He needed to strike two more times for a 300 game and a $10,000 ABC TV bonus. His 11th ball was perfect as was the pinfall. His 12th looked just as perfect. But Johnson, sprawled on the approach, left the solid ten pin. This is the moment that Don Johnson is best remembered for. I am sure he gained a lot of bowling fans that day. Anyone that witnessed the event in person or on television will never forget that moment.


Center History

Two of Kokomo's bowling centers closed their doors for good following the 1968/69 season. Gone were The Bowling Center and Sycamore Lanes. The Bowling Center's roots could be traced back to the Recreation Alleys when they were moved to 500 North Main Street in 1945. That facility became The Bowling Center in 1957. Sycamore Lanes originated as Evans Bowling Academy in 1937. They became Sycamore Lanes in 1954. Although remodeled through the years, they could not compete with the larger and more modern Play Bowl and Cedar Crest.


"Lane Doctoring"

The topic of "lane doctoring" was discussed in Don Lowry's column in late 1965 and early 1966. It was in this era where some proprietors across the country tried to maximize scoring through special lane dressing patterns. This era saw many honor scores "thrown out" yet there was nothing specific in the rules to prohibit the practice. The ABC contented that this practice "violates the spirit of the rules and sportsmanship." One ABC spokesman was quoted as saying at the time "these practices threaten the game's scoring challenge, delude the bowlers as to their capabilities and could lead to their ultimate disenchantment with the game itself."

This debate has now been going on for 30 years and will probably continue for another 30!


Other Trivia

Young John Hurst, in his first season in an adult league, topped the weekly honor roll with his 665 series rolled in the Union League.

Six local bowlers were suspended from the ABC for "controlling averages" or "sandbagging" in one of Kokomo's darkest bowling moments. Could this have been related to the lower scoring in general for this era? We may never know the whole truth on this one.

Current Sports Editor Dave Kitchell wrote the weekly bowling column from October 1968 to January 1969. Mark Morrow did the column for a week and then it was taken over by Gene Conard with Morrow subbing once in a while.


Women's Bowling in Kokomo -- 1965 to 1970


Great scores continued to be posted by the women in the late 1960's.


High Games

There were several high games shot by the local women during this time frame. Viola Huebner struck in the first eight frames and finished with a 264 game. Daisy Strange stroked a 266 game. Jeniece Kasey recorded a 268 game. Joan Miller continued to shoot high scores and tossed a 269 game. The highest game of the era came from Betty Hubert when she rolled a 289.


High Series

The number of women's 600 series continued to increase.

Leading the pack was Betty Hubert who rolled a 703 series. Hubert, rolling for Fitz's Drive-in in the Ten Pin Champs League at Cedar Crest, fired games of 203, 211 and 289. Hubert's 289 and 703 were the 2nd highest game and series ever rolled a woman bowler in Kokomo. Interestingly enough, Hubert actually led the entire city that year with her 703 as no male bowler had a 700 series.

Other high series were rolled by Joan Miller (657), Velma Peacock (649), Rosie Currens (647) and Dorothy Wilcox (640).

Joan Miller led the era with eight 600 series. Kasey added four. Marilyn Shively, Liz Cagle and Rosie Currens each had three 600 series. Mulitple 600's were also rolled by Velma Peacock, Viola Huebner, Dudie Chambers, Phyllis Chism and Dorothy Wilcox. Other 600's were rolled by Louise Thomas, Ida Reel, Lorene Salsbury, Mildred Fox, Louise Parkhurst, Nancy Johnson, Evie Wenisch, Phyllis Karns, Martha Fecher, Elvetta Pristach, Daisy Strange and Sue Kubler.


Tournament Results

There were several excellent showings in the 1965 Muncie Star-Press Tournament. Hi-Mark Restaurant finished 3rd in team handicap. Ann Shreiner and Duggie McCoy won the doubles with their handicap score of 1263. Jeneice Kasey captured the all-events crown with her actual score of 1711.

In the 1965 Indiana/Kentucky UAW Tournament, Barbara DeShon took the lead in singles with her handicap score of 646. DeShon fired a 562 actual. Her team also took the lead.

In March 1967, the Delco Radio Apaches team took 1st place in Louisville with their 2908 handicap score. Team members were Liz Cagle, Malinda Hudson, Ruby Wysong, Dorothy Pier and Marie Sutherin. Rosie Currens and Jeniece Kasey won the doubles actual and handicap. Currens won the singles actual with 576. Kasey won the all-events actual with 1631.

Hutto Drug took over the "B" division team lead in the 1967 State Tournament in South Bend.



That’s concludes the Bowling History column for this month. If you have any photographs, interesting stories or topics that you would like to see in future articles, please let me know.