USBC Open Championships record holder Sylvester Thiel dies

Matt Cannizzaro
USBC Communications
Published: May 31, 2016 |

RENO, Nev. – United States Bowling Congress Open Championships participation icon Sylvester Thiel of Lake City, Minnesota, died at his home Tuesday morning. He was 93.

Thiel, who made his first USBC Open Championships appearance at the 1940 event in Detroit, became one of the most recognizable faces at the tournament, earning his place in the record books with his passion and dedication to the world’s largest participatory sporting event.

SylJersey2016OCForWeb250x300On March 16, 2016, at the National Bowling Stadium, he became the third bowler in tournament history to compete 71 times, tying the participation record of USBC Hall of Famers Bill Doehrman and Joe Norris.

Thiel returned to the lanes the next day to bowl doubles with his wife, Phyllis, whom he met while competing at the 1965 Open Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shortly after their meeting, Phyllis moved to Michigan to help Thiel at the 70-lane bowling center he managed, and before long, they had their own bowling center, a venture that lasted until 1977, when they sold it and moved back to Phyllis’ hometown of Lake City.

Thiel got an early start in the sport, bowling two games a day for 15 cents apiece while growing up, and he joined his first league in 1935. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force and served in Holland during the Normandy Invasion.

Bowling and the Open Championships became a lifestyle for Thiel, who made a career as a bowling proprietor and looked forward to his annual journey to compete on the sport’s biggest stage.

He celebrated a special dual-milestone at the 2005 Open Championships in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as he reached 60 years of participation and joined the event’s elite 100,000-Pin Club on the same night.

The well-spoken right-hander is one of 19 bowlers in tournament history to eclipse the 100,000 pinfall mark, and he is sixth on the career pinfall list with 114,297.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Phyllis; son, Tim (Barry), daughters, Cindy (Steve), Jacqui (Bill), Patti (Mike), eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 5 at Schleicher Funeral Homes, Lake City Chapel in Lake City. A celebration of Thiel’s life will take place at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Monday, June 6 at 11 a.m.

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