Kokomo Bowling's  -  Top Stories of the 20th Century


Well, we've come to the end of another year, decade, century, and, depending on how you count it, millennium. This is an appropriate time to look back and highlight the top events, or stories, of the 20th century.

It was a difficult task. What criteria should be used? Should it focus on milestones? Should it focus on recent high scoring feats? Should it focus on people or even groups? It wasn't easy, but I forced myself to narrow it down to ten events. (OK, twelve if you count the 3-way tie!)

I had to leave out such notable events as Nick Karnegis' marathon bowling of 110 games in 15 hours and the subsequent first bowling photograph in a Kokomo newspaper, in 1921. Don Sellers' capturing the 1944 Indiana Bowling Association State Tournament singles championship didn't make it either. The 1960's suspension of six Kokomo bowlers by the ABC for sandbagging did not make it, even though it made national news. Nor did the 1922 opening of the ten-lane Recreation Alleys, that enabled league bowling to grow. Hack Thompson's first 700 series in 1929 didn't make it. The first state tournament, hosted by Kokomo in 1940, missed the cut. The closing of Don Lowry Lanes East following the 1997-98 season and the significant impact on the bowlers of Kokomo just missed the list. Tex Thornton did not make it with his 300 at the age of about 65. Brian Graham's three 800 series didn't make it. Lisa Cook's 300 this year fell short also! (Yes, you made it Colleen!)

I told you it wasn't easy! If I left something out that you think should have been included, please keep it to yourself. It's too late now!

Here is the final list with the most significant event, or story, being listed last.


#10 - Tie - Ray Cameron, Dan Gibson and Bob Burge Feats

In 1966, Ray Cameron became the first bowler to roll two 300 games in Kokomo. His first 300, at Sycamore Lanes in 1961, was Kokomo's 5th ever. His second, also at Sycamore Lanes was only the 10th ever in Kokomo. Contrast that to the fact that we had ten in less than a month earlier this season!

Dan Gibson rolled the 13th and 14th perfect games in Kokomo and captured two more firsts in the City of Firsts. On April 2, 1978 Gibson rolled the first 300 game in the Kokomo Bowling Association (KBA) City Tournament. He then became the first bowler to roll two perfect games within a one-year period when he tossed another on October 22, 1978. Both of Gibson's games were rolled at Don Lowry Lanes.

Bob Burge's recent feat was the most recent event to make the list. For those with a really bad memory, Burge shot a 300 game at Cedar Crest on October 22, followed that up with another perfect game and an 824 series, in the City Mixed Tournament on November 7 at Don Lowry Lanes. But Burge wasn't finished. Only three days later he fired another 300 on November 10 at Don Lowry Lanes. This feat even made it into Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crown section. Burge's accomplishment has every bowler making a Christmas wish!


#9 - Peg Hawkins 298 Game and 718 Series

The next significant accomplishment of the century came from Peg Hawkins. On March 5, 1959, Hawkins narrowly missed becoming the first Kokomo woman to throw a perfect game. Rolling for Smitty's Tavern in the Ladies Play Bowl Classic League, Hawkins left the 6 and 10 pins after tossing eleven straight strikes.

The 298 game would hold up for almost 40 years as Kokomo's highest women's game. Had she been able to get those two stubborn pins to fall, she would have had the 4th overall 300 even counting the men. I easily could have ranked this feat higher than I did. Rolling at heavy three pound and eight ounce pins without the bowling ball technology we have today, makes this feat truly extraordinary. High games were not new for Hawkins. In 1947 she rolled a 289 game in the Women's State Tournament which stood as that tournament record for many years also.


#8 - The Great Scoring Barrage of February 3, 1981

The pins at Cedar Crest took a beating on February 3, 1981. Don't remember the date? Well let me help you! Five scores over 700 were shot that night in the Big Payoff League. Steve Preston shot 728. Another lefty by the name of Kelley stroked 751. Dick Armstrong rolled a 761. Jon Kaelin powered a booming 790. Still don't remember huh? Well, it was also the night that Kaelin's opponent, Dan Preston, shot the city record series of 856! Preston rolled games of 287, 269 and 300 for the record that has now stood for almost 20 years!


#7 - The First Kokomo 800 Series

I know that you could question including single game and series scores as some of the most significant accomplishments of the century. Perhaps you are thinking that records over a season or career should be included. One could certainly understand that position. However, in bowling there are magical milestones. The first time they are broken is always a significant event and memorable for all active bowlers at the time.

That brings us to the first bowler to roll an 800 series. This is perhaps the most significant goal of any bowler. To achieve this goal you need to perform extremely well for three games. If you spread out only five single pin leaves you cannot make 800. In other words, you better be throwing lots of strikes and put them in long strings.

The 800 milestone breaker for Kokomo was Ed Martin. On April 2, 1979 Martin unloaded games of 257, 278 and 278 at Cedar Crest for an 813 series.


#6 - The First Women's 300 Game

In the late 1990's, a number of women were starting to roll some very high games. Names like Beth Stanley, Deb Stewart, Lisa Graham, Kim Akers, Kathy Exmeyer and Colleen Holaday were the top candidates to roll the first women's perfect game. The achievement finally went to Holaday with her late season perfect game on April 27, 1998 at Don Lowry Lanes.


#5 - The First Men's 300 Game

On December 20, 1924 Bob Leffert rolled a 300 game in a non-sanctioned match against Homer Kilbuck. Joe Fohn rolled a 300 game in an away team match against an Indianapolis team in October 1929. That was not a sanctioned event either. Neither of these feats are going to show up in Kokomo's record books.

That distinct honor in Kokomo bowling history belongs to Fred Hurstel. On December 22, 1937, Hurstel rolled the first sanctioned 300 at the Recreation Alleys, which at the time, were at 325 N Main Street. Hurstel rolled the game on lanes 3 and 4, which were upstairs at the two-level center. Although this is the most notable of Hurstel's achievements, he accomplished much more that would make him one of the best bowlers ever in Kokomo. He also gets credit for being the first to average 200 when he averaged 199.68 (they rounded up then) in the 1938-39 season. He also held the Kokomo series record on three separate occasions.


#4 - Don Johnson

The career of Don Johnson and the visibility he brought to Kokomo was certainly one the biggest bowling stories of the century. Johnson turned pro first and was followed shortly by fellow Kokomo bowler Carl Babb. Many local bowlers considered Babb the better of the two but it was Johnson who would make his mark in bowling history.

Johnson and Babb's first professional tournament was in Chicago in December 1961. Both averaged about 190, which did not make the finals. Johnson would go on to win about 30 professional events and earn himself a place in the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame and the ABC Hall of Fame. Needless to say, he is also a member of the KBA and Indiana Bowling Association Hall of Fames. He was also responsible for bringing the first PBA tournament to Kokomo in the fall of 1967. This followed Johnson's 2nd place finish in the Firestone Tournament of Champions. One of the most memorable occurrences of PBA television bowling was Johnson leaving a ringing 10 pin for a 299 game in the title match of the 1970 Firestone tournament.


#3 - The Formation of the KWBA

The Kokomo Women's Bowling Association (KWBA) was formed on October 22, 1935. Now in existence for almost 65 years, they have been one of the most active and leading associations in the state.


#2 - The Formation of the KBA

In April 1916, George Strout, one of the leading bowling enthusiasts in the city, received a letter from Ed H. Meyer, secretary of the Indianapolis Bowling Association. The purpose of the letter was to invite Kokomo to a meeting in Logansport to discuss joining the State Association and the ABC while forming a city association of its own.

The Kokomo Bowling Association was formed shortly thereafter on August 17, 1916. The constitution and by-laws were developed and adopted on Friday, August 25, 1916.

For over 80 years, volunteer bowlers have contributed their time and talents towards making organized bowling more enjoyable for all. The KBA has produced many leaders that went on to lead the Indiana Bowling Association as President. They include Bud Fridlin, John Paul Jones, Loren Guge and Jack Bender.


#1 - Don Lowry's Many Contributions

What list of bowling in Kokomo would be complete without Don Lowry? His leadership in the local, state and national bowling organizations was a major contribution to bowling at each level.

Lowry started bowling in 1935 at the age of 24. He would learn from Kokomo's best bowlers and become one of its best. In 1947, he set the all-time series record of 759. Two years later he was a member of the Lord's Jewelers team that set the team series record of 3259. This record would stand for over 30 years. He shot at least seven 700 series by 1950 which made him the 2nd most prolific 700 shooter behind Hurstel. He averaged a Kokomo record 203 in 1947. He captured two city doubles titles and seven team titles, which were the most treasured event of the era.

But Lowry was not recognized so much for his bowling as for his service to the game.

Lowry and bowling partner Clyde Myer opened Play Bowl in 1950. One of the reasons he decided to open his own center was that no bowling centers stayed open in the summer. He was the first to add automatic pinsetters. This opened up the game to more women and children. He initiated junior bowling programs at Play Bowl. He was a strong supporter of junior bowling and got involved in junior bowling at the state and national level.

Lowry was very active in the Indiana Bowling Proprietors of America Association or BPAA. He served as president of that organization twice. He also served the BPAA at the national level. He chaired the Indiana BPAA youth committee for about 20 years. Lowry is generally credited with the creation of the Young American Bowling Alliance or YABA. He served as its first president. The YABA was a product of the merger of the American Junior Bowling Congress and Youth Bowling Association and ended an 18 year feud between ABC and the BPAA regarding junior bowling. He also developed the Indiana State Family Twosome Tournament and promoted it into a national event that is still conducted annually.

Lowry was also a risk taker. At the age of 64 he built Don Lowry Lanes in 1976. He bought Astro Bowl about 10 years later to create Don Lowry Lanes East.

Lowry was very active in local bowling. He was a league officer. He was a three-term President of the KBA, serving in 1952, 1953 and 1964. He also served as a director for about 30 years. He wrote a weekly bowling column in the Tribune for about 10 years. In 1981, he was elected into the Indiana Bowling Association Hall of Fame. He was a charter member of the KBA Hall of Fame when it was formed in 1986.

Two fitting tributes to Lowry, given in the past, are appropriate.

When daughter Judy won the junior state tournament she told her friends "I had to win that one for my dad. He's worked so hard for me and all the kids in bowling."

And Don Johnson standing in front of an ABC television audience saying "Don Lowry taught me to bowl. I owe him an awful lot".

Well there you have it; the best of the 20th century. I may not have picked all of your favorites but I am sure you will agree these were very significant stories in Kokomo's bowling history. Let's hope the next 100 years brings as many special events and people to the bowlers of Kokomo.