In the final match, voters on the USBC and USBC Open Championships Facebook pages chose Lillard

Read more about the OC Bracket Challenge here.


Watch the OC Bracket Challenge episode of the Inside the OC podcast here.

Is it safe to say, that in a chaotic and tumultuous 2020, all was right in the world for a brief moment, as United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Bill Lillard Sr. was revealed as the winner of the 2020 OC Bracket Challenge?

In the final match, voters on the USBC and USBC Open Championships Facebook pages chose Lillard over the all-events record of 2,326, posted by young left-hander Matt McNiel in 2010. It was a choice between longevity and performance.

While the 32-contender Bracket Challenge may not have been scientific in nature, and the number of bowlers and memories we could’ve included in the final list of 32 nearly is exponential, it would be hard to argue against Lillard being a top candidate for the most significant competitor, or having one of the most noteworthy performances, in the history of the Open Championships.

Yes, McNiel’s performances over the last decade earned him TWO places in the overall semifinals of the OC Bracket Challenge and he easily could be named Open Championships bowler of the 2010s, but it would not be fair to compare him to Lillard heads up, YET. Remember, McNiel’s only 13 years into his OC career, so he has decades to go before that comparison makes sense.

At the same time, while head-turning, impressive and unforgettable, McNiel’s scoring records of 2,326 (all-events) and three 800s (only bowler to do so) also seem a little tough to compare to a nearly seven-decade legacy. But, since it’s apples to oranges, it made for some good discussion and allowed voters to take a stance between other-worldly performances and the fruits of longevity.

The one tidbit from McNiel’s resume that wasn’t relevant in this edition of the OC Bracket Challenge, was the fact that he’s the only bowler in tournament history to win three Regular All-Events titles (2010, 2012, 2015). THAT is an absolutely phenomenal stat, not to mention he made a run in 2011, too, before finishing third overall. This alone potentially could guarantee McNiel a win in future head-to-head matches with almost anyone.

McNiel cruised through both quadrants of the 2020 OC Bracket Challenge in which he was included – Record Moments (2,326) and Tournament Firsts (first to three 800s) – and votes even determined his all-events record is more significant than Center Aisle. Let that sink in. Wow! Certainly is a good and outcome and a huge victory in itself.

Could the final match have been Lillard’s legacy against the tradition of Center Aisle or the fact that the event never has been held in a traditional bowling center? Sure, maybe if the entire panel of voters was history majors.

Instead, the final rounds of the Challenge were an opportunity to celebrate all the OC is about – tradition, participation, dedication and, since it ultimately is about competition, performance.

We’re all winners in the end because we got to remember and discuss two things we’re all passionate about – bowling and the Open Championships.

Before it’s all over, for those who love competing in the event but don’t know as much about the history and trailblazers, there’s some great info about Lillard below.

I’ll admit, I competed in the Open Championships six times before taking my job with USBC, and I didn’t know who Lillard was or anything about what he’d accomplished at the OC. In fact, the first time I met him, it was because he walked into the PR office. I thought he was a lost bowler, and I offered to help him find what he was looking for.

That’s about the time I committed to learning everything I could about the OC, it’s history and the bowlers – especially ones like Lillard, Bill Doehrman, Sylvester Thiel, Joe Norris – ones who may not have shined as bright on other stages, at least during my youth – but are the foundation of OC tradition.

For the 10 events after that, I knew exactly when Lillard would be in town, and I couldn’t wait to see him and his family.

About Bill Lillard Sr. at the Open Championships:

Lillard made 68 consecutive appearances on the tournament lanes, averaging more than 200 for the first 60 years. Only three bowlers in 116 years of OC competition have bowled in more events (there’s a three-way tie with 71 between USBC Hall of Famers Doehrman and Norris and Minnesota legend Thiel).

Lillard collected eight titles in his tournament career, including a record-setting four wins at the 1956 event (this mark has been match two times since). Only one bowler has found the winner’s circle more times on bowling’s biggest stage, and that was USBC Hall of Famer Nelson Burton Jr., who won nine times. However, his record includes the 1976 USBC Masters, which, while contested on the OC lanes each year from 1951-2004, was not part of the OC proper.

Lillard finished his career in 2015 as the tournament’s all-time pinfall leader with a 124,087 total. Now, five years later, only two active bowlers, Glenn Allison and Les Zikes, are within 10,000 pins (3,895 and 9,552, respectively) of Lillard’s mark. Both gentlemen are approaching their 70th appearances, too, but the amount of ground they still need to cover just solidifies how good Lillard was.

Read about Lillard’s final appearance here.

Lillard died in 2017 at age 89. Read more about his life here.

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