Remember How Great our Sport is and What Great History it Has – Bowling Memoirs of Johnny Petraglia

We all know how popular bowling was in the 70’s and 80’s. The TV ratings for the PBA tour were terrific, and bowling centers were full all the time. What most bowlers don’t realize (especially the younger bowlers) is how popular bowling was 100 years ago.

When I was 12 years old there was a newspaper in New York City called the Journal American. Every year the the paper held a tournament called “The Journal American Father and Son Tournament.” Father and son teams qualified all over the city. You had to qualify in your borough to make it to the finals in Manhattan. That year my Dad and I qualified as one of the teams from Brooklyn. The finals were held in Roxy lanes, which was under the Roxy theatre on Broadway. Both the Roxy Theatre and the Roxy Lanes are no longer there.

When we went down the steps into the lanes, there were pictures of the Broadway stars of the day on the walls of the staircase. When we walked into the lanes, I was amazed. It was a 40 lane center and the most beautiful place I had ever seen. The layout there were 20 lanes, then the bar, and then 20 more lanes. The bar ran parallel to the lanes. It was mahogany and had a red velvet canopy over it. While my dad was checking in I started looking around. There were pictures everywhere and also newspaper articles in frames. Things like when the Broadway lights were dimmed because a Broadway star died, the party at the end of World War II, etc. The one article that caught my eye was the match between Jimmy Smith and Jimmy Bluin. The big star in bowling from 1900-1920 was a bowler named Jimmy Smith. He dominated the National Matchgame Championships (the big tournament of the day). You could consider it something like the Masters. Jimmy Smith is also one of the charter members of the USBC Hall of Fame.

That year (I think it was 1919) the finals of the National Matchgame Championships were held at Roxy lanes. The match held great interest because Jimmy Bluin was the new young star, and everyone wanted to know if he could knock off the old master. He eventually was also inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame. It’s important to remember that the article I’m reading is the actual article that was written (not a story about the article), so what I’m reading was 40 years old.

On the day of the match, there was so much interest that the center was packed to capacity. The fire marshall wouldn’t let anybody else in. There were 200 more people trying to get in. The center put together a big scoreboard and set it up outside. When one of the bowlers threw a shot, the result was yelled up the staircase and 200 people watched the match, standing outside and seeing nothing but a scoreboard. Jimmy Smith prevailed. Years later in 1928 Jimmy Smith bowled the the legendary Count Gengler and beat him, pretty much forcing the Count into retirement.

When my dad and I got on our pair, the visions of the Smith-Bluin match were in my head and I realized I was on one of bowling’s hallowed grounds. That was 56 years ago and I remember it like it happened yesterday. It also made me appreciate the events that would come in the near future. I realized when I was bowling a title match that besides being in the match, I had a front row seat to history, and somebody may be talking about this 50 years from now.

It’s important to remember how great our sport is and what great history it has. If you enjoy history, go to the centers and the lanes where great thing happened while they’re still there. Go to Riveria Lanes in Fairlawn Ohio. Bowl on 27 & 28 and try to imagine what it was like for Jack Biondolillo on that last shot to bowl the first 300 on TV. That’s the same pair where Don Johnson, on his final shot, left the solid 10 pin. Go to Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick, NJ, and bowl on 7 & 8 and imagine how Pete Weber felt when he won his 5th U.S.Open. That’s just to name of couple of moments. I’m sure you will come up with a lot more. That’s what life is all about for me. Maybe it is for you too.

cento anni’…Johnny Petraglia

7 thoughts on “Remember How Great our Sport is and What Great History it Has – Bowling Memoirs of Johnny Petraglia

  1. Arthur Herbst says:

    I started bowling at 7. I Got to meet Johnny Petraglia at Fantasy Lanes in Detroit back in the late 60’s. He came there to meet us kids and give advice. Nice man. So I bought an LT-48 just because it had his name on it.

  2. Sandra LaChance says:

    John Petraglia you were the first pro bowler that I bowled with which was about 40 years age, will never forget as I am left handed and it was so great to watch a great pro bowler that was left handed too. I am still bowling at 73 and can still come out with some good series. It is so different now though bowling with a younger generation and Lane patterns etc. I still enjoy but miss the old days and you are so right how The younger generations don’t know about the sport in the old days. This will be my 26th year going to National Tournaments and hopefully will as long as I am able. Glad to see the the PBA tour is stopping in Maine and hope that you will come back next year. Wish I could of been in Augusta yesterday, had planned to come but things didn’t work out. Hope you have a great time in Maine, the weather right now is not the greatest, you will have to come back in the summer! Great reading your post.

  3. Mark Phillips says:

    Thanks for sharing you memories of some of the greats in bowling!! Never missed bowling on Saturdays on ABC!!! I owned several LT 48’s the best ball I ever owned in my 40 years of bowling!!

  4. Ken Sheldon says:

    I loved the last paragraph about going to Riviera. In 1987 I went to a tournament in Massillon, Ohio and made a point of stopping at Riviera Lanes and bowling on 27 & 28. It was the week after Pete Weber won the Firestone, and the lanes were bone dry.

    Also that year I spent some time in California and bowled at Mel’s South Shore Lanes (Jim Stefanich 300 and Mark Roth’s 7-10), Saratoga Lanes (Johnny Guenther’s 300), Gable House (Pete McCordic’s 300) and LaHabra 300 Bowl (Glenn Allison’s 900).

  5. Bob Andretta says:

    Hey John,

    I enjoyed reading this article. I bowled with you a few years back in Carolier, during the US Open. Trying to put my game back together after a series of issues health wise. It was three of the best days of my bowling career, knowing I was lacing up with you everyday. You were nothing but kind, and when I finally managed to roll a 220 game, you were so supportive telling me to go horse and laughing and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Speaking of history, lets not forget your televised 300. “The kids can go to college, the rest is all gravy” I watched history that day. I passed this on to my kids. My son Darren is a walking encyclopedia of history in regards to the game. Pick his brain. He can tell you where, what pair, what ball, what center and your opponent and who won. The only other memory that comes close to bowling with you was the day I got to sit with Andy Veripappa. I was competing in a Stars of Tomorrow Tournament in Garden City, NY. I was eating lunch and watching the next squad. Mr. Veripappa asked if he could join me, and for 45 minutes he sat and talked bowling with me. It was like being with my grandfather. I love the sport, I wish I was the player you are. But I coach, run leagues and try to give back to it. I will see you in May in Farmingdale at the PBA 50. Who knows maybe we will cross again?

  6. John Jennings says:

    I remember the famous Friday night “live” show after the boxing match, Make that Spare. Lucky enough to live in north New Jersey and visit Paramus Bowling “Home of Champions” several weeks in a row. They asked if I wanted to sit on the folding chairs set up on the approach for a show, so the next week, Mom, Dad, and I were 3 of the 7 people on the wall approach as lanes 2 and 3 were used for the show. I remember seeing Harry “Tiger” Smith, and Dick Weber compete on the show. Wonderful fun and I am still bowling 50+ years later.

  7. Junior Russo says:

    Hey Johnny,

    I’m sure you remember the ‘early’ days back at Maple Lanes, Brooklyn NY not far from your ‘home’ lanes at Fortway. We both bowled in the Junior Leagues at Maple lanes. Joe Valentine, myself, Junior Collura and others. I remember when you were a wild lefty with an uncontrollable hook, gutter balls and all. Then as you matured you developed into a fabulous bowler, fun to watch and an ambassador to the game.
    Love to hear from you as Joe Val and I have stayed friends all these years.

    Best Junior (Paul) Russo

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