---- — It was quite the unique event, a celebration of exceptional achievement. But then, it has been for the past 15 years, especially for those who’ve turned the simple game of bowling into a special occasion and carefree pastime.
There are noteworthy events and distinctive occasions, then there’s the extraordinary.
So Saturday night, the Kokomo Bowling Association amid a packed audience staged its 16th City of Firsts USBC Association Hall of Fame and Recognition Banquet honoring five local keglers and four youthful scholarship winners.
Rick Hartung, Tammy Burge, Justin “Peanut” Lawrence and Lois Kelley were honored as “Outstanding Bowlers” and John Lucas was honored for special services — all toting individual averages from 175 to 204 and a 781 series average — swelling the Hall of Fame ranks to 134 members.
But there was more.
Western High School graduate Katie Brown received the Kay Kelly Scholarship, Taylor’s Damon Knosp received the Don Lowry Memorial Scholarship, Tipton’s Heather L. Peters received the Tex and Sue Thornton Scholarship and Maconaquah’s Emily E. Ballee won the City of Firsts USBC Scholarship. Knosp was out of state and unable to attend.
There was one common thread that touched all of Saturday’s honorees — the people they had met and the friendships made. Their accomplishments were huge. And yet, it was the happiness and satisfaction gained by those week-to-week get togethers that made the difference.
Hartung has been at the game for 40 years; pitched two 300 games; two 800 series; 109 series of 700; 37 games of 279 or higher or more and has been a large part of many championships while averaging well over 200 for 14 seasons.
“I was shocked when I learned I was being inducted,” he remarked, “and it’s a great honor. I love the game, bowl in city, state and national tournaments and do the best I can. The game has changed with all the technology and what happens on the lanes happens. But people are the reason I bowl.”
For Lawrence, bowling has been his passion for 35 years in which he’s had two 300s, a high series of 814, an 803 series with 20 consecutive strikes and 10 series over 700 while averaging 204. He served as a coach at Don Lowry Lanes and along with Tom Beale started a prayer group for youth. He was the first to roll an 800 series and 300 game in the same season.
“This is the game I love,” he said. “I’ve had two knee surgeries, but as long as it’s fun I’ll be there. It’s an honor to be inducted with some very special people, and I’m humbled to be here.”
Kelley has been at the game for 30 years; has teamed with several Hall memvers on outstanding teams and is considered an excellent spare shooter with a career high average of 186 and high series of 698 that included a 278 game. The “Hall” image runs in the family as husband Rick was inducted last year; daugher Lisa Cook in 2010 and neice Beth Perkins in 2005.
“I was shocked when I was told I was being inducted,” she offered. “I never thought I was worthy. But bowling has been my home away from home, and it has been the best time of my life. When I shot my first 200 I was hooked. This has been a very special night.”
Burge is a 30-year veteran of the lanes with a career average of 197, a high single game of 276 and high series of 748, 715, 702 and 701 along with numerous championships. She is a proclaimed tournament fanatic having competed in many local, state and national tournaments.
“I was very surprised and had no idea when I was informed I was to be inducted,” she remarked. “I love the game and now bowl in just two leagues. But to me bowling is all about family, friends and people. The game has changed, but I still love it.”
Lucas may be one of the most unique Hall members in that he has bowled for 49 years including during a 24-year military career that carried throughout the U.S. and England and finally at Grissom Air Force Base.
He has a 202 career average with a high series of 750 and a 289 with 11 straight strikes. But his major contribution has been in coaching youth ages 3 to 20 for the past 20- years, also involving his wife, Lynda, who is also a Hall member.
“I was surprised to learn I was being inducted,” he said. “To me the game is a team thing and meeting people, and I’ll stay with it until the day I die,”
It was a rewarding evening for bowlers, but perhaps an even greater occasion for the four schlarship winners. All four were more than worthy thanks to their dedication to education amidst their heavy involvement in school activities.
Gene F. Conard may be reached through the sports department.