Saturday night's alright for pro bowling, finally, after pandemic-related hiatus | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Saturday night's alright for pro bowling, finally, after pandemic-related hiatus

Kris Prather, the PBA Tournament of Champions champion, is shown in this undated handout image. Pro bowling returns this weekend after an 11-week absence due to the gobal pandemic with the first-ever PBA Strike Derby in Jupiter, Fa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-PBA *MANDATORY CREDIT*
June 05, 2020 - 12:51 PM

Pro bowling is back, with strikes aplenty expected in its return Saturday after an 11-week-plus absence due to the pandemic.

The first-ever PBA Strike Derby, a televised tournament in Jupiter, Fla., features eight top bowlers in a format that will see each competitor get two minutes to record as many strikes as they can. They are then placed into an elimination bracket where the Strike Derby continues until a champion is crowned.

The field features the winners of six of the first eight PBA Tour events of the 2020 season in Tommy Jones, Kyle Troup, Sean Rash, E.J. Tackett, Kris Prather, Shawn Maldonado, Anthony Simonsen and Bill O'Neill.

"It's really our all-star event, our home-run derby," said PBA CEO Colie Edison. "And it's fast-paced, high-energy and completely different that anyone's ever seen the PBA do before."

Travel difficulties kept U.S. Open champion Jason Belmonte of Australia and PBA Indianapolis Open winner Jesper Svensson of Sweden away, opening berths to their tournament runners-up.

There will be no fans on hand and the PBA Tour — now branded as the GoBowling! PBA Tour — promises "an abundance of caution towards the safety of the players, officials and TV production crew."

"It has been challenging to navigate," said Edison. "We have been able to lean on our friends over at the WWE who have been shooting down here in Florida throughout this entire pandemic and just learning about their safety measures."

The good news, as Edison notes, is that bowling centres are already set up pretty well for physical distancing.

The eight competitors will use their own balls and shoes. Ball returns and other equipment will be regularly sanitized. Temperatures will be checked upon entry and crew will don personal protection equipment.

The PBA suspended all tournament activities on March 17 due to the pandemic. The US$320,000 PBA playoffs were scheduled to start April 6, featuring the season's top 24 points-earners competing for a $100,000 first-place prize.

"We were eight events into our season and, I guess pun intended, we were on a roll," said Edison. "We had a lot of momentum.

"Obviously there's no good time for a pandemic but it definitely hit us pretty hard. We were in the middle of one of our marquee events — the World Series of Bowling. We had to make some shifts in that (tournament) and ultimately postpone the Tour until now."

Belmonte defeated Simonsen 213-190 in the championship match of the last Tour event held in March, earning $150,000 in winning his 24th career PBA Tour title and 13th major.

Saturday's event is taking place at Bowlero Jupiter — home turf so to speak.

Bowlero Corp, the world's largest owner and operator of bowling centres, bought the Professional Bowlers Association last September from a group of former Microsoft executives — Mike Slade, Chris Peters and Rob Glaser.

Bowlero has more than 300 locations across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, boasting more than 28 million guests every year. Edison doubles as Bowlero's chief customer officer.

The PBA, which describes itself as "the pinnacle of professional bowling since 1958," was founded by Eddie Elias, a lawyer from Akron, Ohio.

The pro bowling circuit was launched a year later with three tournaments, whose gross value was less than $50,000. The 2020 PBA Tour, in its original formal, offered $2.1 million in combined prizes.

Saturday's winner will take home $25,000.

"I think in this moment it's about being creative and flexible," said Edison, whose resume includes being a cast member of "The Real World: Denver," the 18th season of the MTV reality show filmed in 2006.

"I'm so excited to be able to bring this to a wide audience, but it's also about getting our athletes back in the game," she added. "While we recognize these aren't huge prize amounts, this is the way that our athletes earn their living and are able to support their families.

"So it's important that we get our tournaments back up and started even if it's just with these special events. Because we want their careers going again."

On June 13, the focus switches to the "PBA Summer Clash," a one-ball elimination format that features eight PBA stars and Shannon O'Keefe and Danielle McEwan of the women's tour. The format will see the low score eliminated after each round until only one player remains.

In July, the schedule features a live four-night "PBA King of the Lanes" series that will see one player earn top spot and then defend the crown each night against a different challenger.

All three events, to be held in Jupiter, are made-for-TV and were not part of the original schedule, with the PBA Tour taking the opportunity to showcase new formats. The hope is also that the Tour can attract some more attention with so many sports still on hiatus.

"We know that we have really upgraded our game," said Edison. "And that today's PBA is nothing like what it used to be. But there's an awareness issue, in that most sports fans don't know about the new PBA."

The main portion of the 2020 Tour was originally slated to run from January through July. Postponed events will be rescheduled for the fall and winter, which involves shoehorning tournaments into a TV schedule likely crowded with other leagues looking to squeeze in delayed play.

Canadians Graham Fach of Guelph, Ont., Patrick Girard of Jonquiere, Que., Francois Lavoie of Quebec City, Mitch Hupe of Winnipeg and Zacharay Wilkins of Barrie, Ont., are all part of the PBA Tour.

Lavoie, named Tour rookie of the year in 2016, is the leading Canadian on the 2020 money list in eighth with $46,900. Belmonte, one of a few bowlers who use both hands in their delivery, tops the earnings at $232,300.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.


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News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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