It took the stocky man in the black uniform eternal agonizing moments to lift his bowling ball from the rack along Lane No. 14. As he finally turned to survey the pins through rimless glasses, tiny sweat beads on his forehead glistened like costume jewelry under television lights, and an intense silence enveloped the 2,000 spectators in the Chicago Coliseum.
After nine days of racking competition, this was the ball that could mean victory in the All-Star, symbol of the U.S. Match Game Bowling Championship. The ball that 20 million bowling fans talk about, that 5½ million league and club participants dream of, that 5,000 professionals strive for and 160 winners of state eliminations come to Chicago to compete for each year. The ball that only the country's two best bowlers ever get a chance to roll.
For veteran Steve Nagy of Cleveland, the big ball was weighted with more than the championship and its immediate glory and gain (at least $25,000 for his bowling enterprises). It meant restoration of faith in himself. Three times in previous All-Stars he had led the field, only to falter in the final innings. This time, through a series of incredible breaks, he again was in a position to win. At 41, it was almost certainly his last opportunity: only once had a man past that age held the title.
Weary-armed, his calloused thumb badly swollen after bowling 106 and 8/10 games in little more than a week (league bowlers normally roll only 99 competitive games during a nine-month season), Nagy resolutely moved into position. He paused momentarily for a final stationary study of the pins more than 60 feet away. The ball flashed behind his back and then swung forward in a smooth arc as Nagy took his customary four steps. There was the usual muffled reverberation while the ball rolled down the amber alley, then the high-pitched clack of hard-rubber and wood. Down went 10 pins for a strike. Nagy had clinched the title with a frame to spare.
An hour before Nagy's climactic roll, Sylvia Wene, 26 , a roly-poly, doll-like Philadelphia miss of 4 ft. 11 in. and 130 pounds, wrested the U.S. women's crown from a tense and ailing Marion Ladewig in a stunning upset. Mrs. Ladewig, a 40-year-old grandmother from Grand Rapids, Mich., was a tired shadow of the fierce competitor who had won five consecutive All-Stars here, scoring nearly as high—and in 1949 higher—than the winner of the men's division. She came to Chicago 13 pounds below her normal weight of 135. On Saturday, the day before the finale, down to 118, she announced her retirement from future championship competition, "win or lose."
The All-Star, which ranks with the American Bowling Congress championships as the two foremost events of the bowling season, has been compared variously with baseball's World Series, golf's U.S. Open, the Olympic cross-country run, and all three combined. None of these analogies seems accurate, but this claim for it may be true: in no other single sports event do body and mind take such concentrated punishment over so long a period.
Mrs. Ladewig, for instance, in deciding to retire, said: "I start thinking about it a month before the tournament and I get all tight inside. I can't sleep or eat. I'll never roll in the All-Star again, because it takes the fun out of bowling."
The vast majority of the nation's bowlers—from age five to 80—roll for enjoyment. For millions it is a pleasurable way to spend an evening with companions. For others it provides exercise, or even psychotherapy.
But the All-Star is no fun, nor is it meant to be. It is a bruising battle among professionals for high stakes. Originated a quarter-century ago by Louis P. Petersen, a Chicago proprietor who has done as much as any man to promote bowling as a sport—as opposed to a pastime—it was taken over by the Chicago Bowling Proprietors Association in 1941. Since World War II, co-sponsored by the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, it has gained in spectator appeal to the point where the three major wire associations, 40 newspapers and seven magazines sent representatives to the Coliseum. One TV and three radio stations reported the play by play.
The All-Star actually starts in the fall with eliminations in 26 states, the top 160 men and 64 women qualifying for the nine-day competition in Chicago. The winner and runner-up of the previous year are seeded in the final 16. The other 158 men and 62 women roll for five days to determine the 14 remaining places in each division. Then the 16 finalists engage in intensive head-and-head matches the last four days—the men rolling 64 games and the women 32 in almost continuous day-and-night bowling. Scoring is on "Petersen points"—a system devised by the founder. One point is awarded for each game won, and for every 50 pins knocked down. A half-point, or 25 pins, is given to a bowler who out-scores his opponent in total pins for four games, yet loses three games. Thus, both pinfall and winning games is important.
Defending champion Don Carter, 27, of St. Louis, seeking a record third straight triumph, bowled over more pins than any other finalist this week (see standings), yet did well to jump from seventh to third place in the last match of the tournament. Bad luck in the form of opponents shooting high scores against him plagued him all the way. Bull-shouldered Ed Lubanski of Detroit also outscored Nagy, yet had the title taken out of his back pocket by the Cleveland proprietor in the final four games. Nagy is champion because he got strikes when he needed them most—to win close games. But more than that, he is champion because fortune smiled on him from the start.
Nagy's astounding run of luck started on Wednesday afternoon, when all but 14 hopefuls were eliminated. He had rolled only 7,315 for the 36 games (203 average) and was far down on the list with many outstanding bowlers still to roll. He returned to his hotel, packed his bags and telephoned his wife Helen to remain in Cleveland.
"I'll be home soon," he said. "I didn't make the finals."
But one by one, some plagued by sore thumbs, others choked by the tense pressure mounting in the great hall, they fell by the wayside. Each needed a strike or a spare to forge ahead of Nagy. Nobody did, but Graz Castellano of New York managed to tie for the 14th place. Nagy, recalled to the Coliseum at 2 a.m., was allowed one warm-up game, then trounced Cas-tellano in a six-game roll-off. At 5 a.m., happily this time, he telephoned red-haired Helen Nagy again: "Hop in the car. I'm in the finals."
By 11 a.m. the 200-pound Nagy, who is known as Big Steve around the tournament circuit, was back at the lanes for his first match. He rolled again in the afternoon to set an all-time record of 21 games in 23 hours. The punishing schedule took its toll, of course. He was in 14th place after the opening of the 16 rounds. But by the fourth round he was eighth and climbing steadily. By Saturday he was fourth, third, second, third again but still close to the leaders.
Lubanski, meanwhile, bowling powerfully, had taken an early lead and held it for nine rounds. At one point he, Tom Hennessey and Pete Carter (no relation to Don), all members of the Stroh team, were one-two-three in the standings. Lubanski went into the final Nagy match with a Petersen point edge of 288-14 to 284-31. This meant that Nagy had to win all four games, or take three by tremendous margins. The odds against him were tremendous. They became astronomic when Lubanski piled in three strikes in a row during the first game to take a wide lead. But as Nagy chopped down the lead, Lubanski appeared to tighten. Finally, in the last frame, he needed only a spare to win. Instead of rolling his normal strong hook, the young Detroiter pushed the ball toward the head pin. He was left with a wide split-pins on each side of the lane—and lost the game 199-190.
A CARDINAL RULE
The pressure mounted. Lubanski, sometimes chewing on a long cigar, sometimes puffing a cloud of black smoke, wanted badly to win. A former minor league pitcher, he had been eking out a bare existence for his blonde wife Betty and their two baby daughters. Working as a merchandise display man for Stroh was better than playing for Muskogee, Okla. but it was nothing compared with being U.S. Champion. The electric tension made Lubanski forget a cardinal rule, however: in bowling, one's only opponent is the triangular formation of pins on the alley. Because he let Nagy's score worry him, instead of concentrating on his own, Lubanski helped defeat himself, rolling 7-10 splits, missing easy spares. Nagy poured it on during the last three games, salted away the title with his ninth-frame strike in the final game.
Nagy, who will be champion at least until the All-Star next year, was born in a small Pennsylvania mining town which no longer is on the map and has lived in Cleveland since he was eight. His father was caretaker of a small cafe which included three alleys. The alleys were both bowled and danced on, depending upon the patrons' mood. By the time he was 11, Steve was doubling as pin boy and bass viol player. Today he is not only a champion bowler but the leader of a three-piece band which has entertained most of Cleveland and a large section of the bowling world. He is co-owner of the Twenty Grand Lanes and of Steve Nagy Bowling Enterprises, Inc., an equipment firm. With Cleveland's Johnny Klares, Nagy holds the all-time ABC doubles record and for years has been on the advisory staff of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., bowling's largest manufacturer and supplier.
Black-haired, flashing-eyed Miss Wene, who owns a grocery store and sizable real estate in Philadelphia, may be champion for a long time now that Marion Ladewig has left the scene. She started her rise to the top five years ago, under the tutelage of veteran Ben Rose. Like Nagy, she divides her feelings between bowling and music (she is a fine piano-accordionist) and rolls an incredibly strong ball for a girl her size. Unlike showman Nagy, who dances at the foul line and sometimes, in his excitement, leaps over racks to put "English" on a ball that already has left his hands, Sylvia is a quiet performer. She rolls, watches the ball, then returns to her seat. She averaged 193 for the 32-game finals, far lower than any of Mrs. Ladewig's previous marks or, for that matter, her own when she finished second to Marion Ladewig in 1951 and 1954. The latter made a desperate attempt at victory, climbing from fifth place on Friday night to second by Saturday afternoon. But she could rise no higher, and in the final two-game series of the tournament she dropped to third behind Miss Wene and Sylvia Fanta, a 47-year-old Chicago housewife whose consistent high scores provided one of the big surprises of the contest.
A PERFECT GAME
The big thrill of the tournament, except for the Nagy and Wene victories, was provided by wiry little Lou Campi, a mason of Dumont, N.J. At 49 the oldest participant, he recorded the fifth 300 game—12 strikes in a row—in All-Star history. The game followed other high scores, including a 258, to give him a high series of 975. Luckily for all the books written on bowling, however, Campi failed to finish higher than 10th. For all new bowlers are taught to slide with left foot forward when releasing the ball, but Lou, one of America's foremost bocchi rollers—an Italian form of bowling—releases the ball with his right foot forward. He learned to bowl that way in Italy, and he isn't changing his style now, thank you. Especially since this, his 15th perfect game.
PERFECT GAME of 300 bowled by Lou Campi is shown on the scoreboard as Campi takes his first triumphant steps away from the alley. It was only the fifth perfect game scored during the 14 years of the National All-Star Bowling Tourn ament. Campi had 11 "picture-perfect" strikes; his only bad moment was on a crossover in the sixth frame. Coupled with three other good games, including a 258, the perfect score gave Campi the tournament series high of 975. He finished tenth in tournament, however.
CHAMPIONS Sylvia Wene and Steve Nagy (top) pose with their symbols of supremacy. Marion Ladewig (bottom), defending champion in women's division, sobs after losing her title. She finished third.
DOTTIE CROUCH (above) finishes bowl with classic follow-through, sliding left foot forward as she releases the ball. She was seventh in the women's division. Below is a pins'-eye view of Dottie as her ball starts to hook in toward the 1-3 pocket.
SYLVIA WENE DEMURELY SKIPS ABOUT AT THE FOUL LINE WHILE WATCHING THE BALL TRAVEL DOWN THE ALLEY. THE GALLERY FOLLOWS HER ANTICS INSTEAD OF THE BALL
STEVE NAGY GRIMLY KNEELS DOWN AT FOUL LINE APPLYING MENTAL ENGLISH TO THE BALL. NACY SOMETIMES JUMPED OVER THE RACKS IN THE HEAT OF HIS EXCITEMENT
EXHAUSTED BOWLER grabs a short nap on cot in Coliseum locker room between matches, some of which took place at 2 a.m. Another form of relaxation was card games.
BUSHED NAGY rests for a few moments and discusses tournament with a friend. Perfect-game bowler Lou Campi examines his tender thumb after he scored the 300.
HEAT TREATMENT is given to Steve Nagy's knee in bowler's room after the knee tightened up shortly after the Cleveland bowler went back to alleys for final match.