We cannot make decisions based on sentiment or popularity.
American Bowling Congress
This is the story of a man who wants immortality and a bureaucracy that says he can't have it.
Glenn Allison is a 52-year-old liquor-store manager from Whittier, Calif. He has sad eyes and a warm smile. Allison works a 60-hour week at Ron's Wines 'n' Spirits on Leffingwell Avenue in Whittier, on the border between Los Angeles and Orange counties. There he sells margarita mix to young women in shorts. They have no idea that Allison is a retired professional bowler—a winner of four ABC championships, five Professional Bowlers Association titles, and a member of the ABC Hall of Fame. He doesn't tell them.
He follows the Rams, the Dodgers and the Lakers on a portable TV he keeps behind the counter; he smokes a pack and a half of Carltons a day, drives a 1968 Buick and plays golf at a municipal course on weekend afternoons. He's a self-described "three-time loser" in marriage, which may account for the sad eyes, and he lives in a house that's owned by his older brother, Bob, and his sister-in-law, Wilma.
On Thursday nights he bowls with his relatives.
Allison's run at immortality began at nine o'clock on the night of Thursday, July 1, 1982 with the first frame of Anchor Girl Trio League play at the La Habra 300 Bowl. Before he threw his first ball Allison had, √† la Babe Ruth pointing at the centerfield fence, told his girl friend, Jessie Thompson, he'd roll her a 300 game for her birthday. At nine sharp he bowled a strike.
At about 9:30, Bob Allison, a 61-year-old design engineer for a tool company, left Wilma in the bowling alley's restaurant, promising to be right back. Every few minutes she heard muffled cheers over the din of falling pins. She wanted to go see what was happening, but she had no money to pay the tab. When Bob did come back, he was flushed and excited. "Glenn just threw a 300 game!"
Wilma hustled to the lanes, leaving Bob to pay the check. She found Glenn standing before Lanes 13 and 14, chatting with her son, Ron. Glenn had already bowled two frames into the next game—both strikes. With a glass of Crown Royal in one hand and a close-lipped smile of contentment on his face, he appeared totally relaxed. He greeted Wilma and nodded to Jessie, "anchor girl" for the opposing team on the lanes.
"It isn't fair," Wilma said. "I've never seen a 300 game!"
"Well, there's always the chance I'll throw another," Glenn said.
Thirty minutes later Allison gracefully launched his 24th consecutive ball into the pocket, gave a little arm pump as the pins crashed and walked back to the growing cluster of amazed bowlers who were looking on. His smile was broader. He exchanged hand slaps with his teammates and relatives and got a big hug from Jessie. His sad eyes twinkled. He had bowled two straight 300 games.
For the next half an hour, whenever Allison stepped onto the approach to Lane 13 or 14, the La Habra 300 Bowl fell eerily silent. Bowlers on the 30 other lanes waited respectfully. Waitresses tiptoed by with their trays of beer. Once Allison's ball was safely on its way, the quiet was broken as cries and exhortations accompanied it into the pocket; shouts, yelps and applause greeted each crash of pins.
Strike 5. Strike 6. Strike 7.
When the pins scattered convincingly for Allison in the eighth frame, he twisted through the noisy tangle of spectators, drink in hand, and found his brother. "I'm nervous," he said in Bob's ear. "My knees are shaking."
Allison's knees had just caught up with the stomachs of most of his audience. He was on the brink of bowling the highest competitive series in history. Two more strikes would practically guarantee the eclipse of Allie Brandt's record 886 series, shot in 1939.
Allison's nervousness didn't show on ball nine, which hooked into the pocket with the same sure tempo as the 32 that had preceded it, striking again. But ball 10 ran fast and straight. Those who weren't holding their breath groaned, for Allison's "oozer" was too high. Allison, poised at the foul line, winced as his ball crunched the head pin. The head pin leaped out of the crashing pack, ricocheted off the sidewall, smacked the 4-pin, which bumped the lonely 9-pin, which wobbled...and fell. Which left everyone limp with relief and incredulity. And made Allison believe in destiny.
That settled, he calmly rolled two more balls into the pocket for his 35th and 36th consecutive strikes, his third consecutive 300 game and the first 900 series in sanctioned competition. (Two 900 series were rolled in "friendly competition" back in the '30s. These aren't officially recognized because they weren't bowled in formal play.)
At this point Allison stopped being calm and fell to his knees. He made it to a seat and disappeared under a mob of pummeling well-wishers. When he finally emerged from the jubilant crowd there were tears in his eyes. "There were a lot of grown men who cried that night," one witness recalls.
A week or two after Allison had bowled the 900 series, Mickey Curley, general manager of La Habra 300 Bowl, mounted Allison's portrait over Lanes 13 and 14. In the picture he lounges, centerfold fashion, on a bowling lane with his bowling ball at his side. Under the photograph are three small gold stars, each emblazoned with the number 300, followed by one big star with a 900 on it and the legend Glenn Allison 7-1-82. The pin-sweeps, which normally carry a Brunswick logo, proclaim Glenn Allison instead. Lanes 13 and 14 are a shrine to bowling perfection.
Actually, they are a battleground. The ABC, after inspecting Lanes 13 and 14, refused to sanction the 900 series, citing lane-dressing conditions that were not "in compliance with Article 7, Section 3" of the rule book. Local inspectors had checked the lanes almost immediately after Allison's series, around midnight and again at 10:50 a.m. on July 2. Later that day Kellermann flew to California from ABC headquarters in Milwaukee to verify the initial findings.
He met with the inspectors in an office at the La Habra 300 Bowl, and on the morning of July 3 indicated to Curley he would recommend that the ABC not recognize the 900 series. Allison was granted a month to submit material supporting the validity of the score. On Sept. 3 ABC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Roger Tessman announced that, given the evidence, the ABC had to rule against him, but that Allison still had the right to appeal. This he did, in person, but last week the appeal was rejected. He is now preparing to take the matter to court.
Allison's 900 series was the ultimate provocation in a controversy over high scores and bowling standards that has polarized the sport for almost two decades. Critics of the ABC have long argued that lane-dressing standards are vague and arbitrarily policed and that the ABC is too hidebound to admit it. Bowlers in ABC-sanctioned leagues have written letters and signed petitions to the ABC demanding that Allison's feat be recognized. "Pardon us if we suspect that Allie Brandt's record is sacrosanct to your august body..." reads a petition drawn up during a tournament at the Canoga Park (Calif.) Bowl. "Glenn Allison's 900 series may never be sanctioned by the ABC, but it will forever be sanctioned in the hearts and minds of millions of bowlers and sports fans as a superb and heroic achievement."
"I think it's a remarkable feat," says star PBA bowler Earl Anthony. "It's like a golfer hitting three or four straight holes in one." Anthony is distressed, as are many of Allison's peers, that a bowler's greatest moment can be wiped out with the flourish of a ballpoint pen. "My opinion is, when a bowler comes into a bowling center for an ABC-sanctioned league, he comes in good faith. He's paid his dues. So when he bowls a score, I feel he should be sanctioned automatically. If something is wrong, the ABC should punish the bowling center, not the bowler."
The outcry in favor of Allison's 900 series represents a curious reversal for those persistent ABC critics who have long lambasted the governing body for encouraging inflated scores. Bowling averages now are an estimated 10 to 15 pins better than mid-'60s scores, a phenomenon blamed by many on the ABC's approval of lighter and bouncier double-voided bowling pins (the new pins have two interior air spaces; the older ones were solid) and softer balls that tend to grip the lanes better. Close to 6,000 perfect games were bowled last year, according to the ABC, compared to 1,900 five years ago, with no appreciable increase in the number of lines bowled.
Allison, whose bowling prime predated the cheap-score era, says, "I would be the first to admit that in the mid-'60s there's no way I could have carried 36 straight strikes against the pins of that time. If you go back 10 years more, I might have missed three or four strikes with the same hits. But the ABC is responsible for this current rise in scores through its sanctioning of the pins, the lanes and the bowling balls."
That the 900 series should be wiped out by an "administrative denial" bewilders and annoys the Allison faithful. "I know those lanes were legal that night," insists Gene Rogers, La Habra's lane manager at the time, who feels his integrity has been impugned by the ABC lane report. Bob Allison, admitting to fraternal prejudice, says, "Glenn bowled a 578 series in the early league the same night. If conditions were so easy, why didn't he bowl 900 twice?"
"It should go down as one of the greatest athletic feats of all time, like Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak," argues six-time PBA champion Andy Marzich. "It's like a golfer going for 10 holes in one. It's mind-boggling."
A quiet man, not given to argument, Allison pleads his own case with an amiable firmness that never slips into rancor. "I've always had a good relationship with the American Bowling Congress and I think they've been great for bowling," he says. "But I think they're making a mistake. I want to rectify that mistake, and I want to fight for my rights."
The ABC's lane reports don't settle the question for Allison, who went to bed early in the morning of July 2 satisfied he had made bowling history. "Their statement was that the lanes didn't meet with ABC specifications per paragraph such and such," he says, "but there were no specifics as to what was wrong. I have all the charts that were made by the ABC officials. We've had them read by other people, knowledgeable people, and they feel there was nothing wrong."
Marzich, a friend and onetime Falstaff teammate of Allison's, voices the feeling of the many tour veterans who are against high scores, but are for Allison. "It's not fair to give an opinion based on emotion or personalities," he says carefully. "But my good buddy Glenn wouldn't lie to anybody, and it's his opinion that those weren't tricked lanes. And he's bowled on plenty of 'em, in St. Louis, in Chicago, wherever. If he feels they were honest, I've got to go with Glenn."
Board 20 is dead center on a 39-board lane of the sort found at La Habra 300 Bowl. To get to the heart of the lane-dressing controversy, it makes sense to start in the middle of a bowling lane. The full length of a typical modern lane is coated with a tough, nonflammable, urethane finish, topped for the first 40 or so feet from the foul line with a polish called "oil." This lane dressing was introduced out of necessity in the 1960s, when urethane replaced lacquer finishes on lanes: Bowling proprietors found the new surfaces so "dry" that ball friction damaged the lanes and affected the bowlers' shots. The answer was a thin film of oil applied daily to the first 40 feet of the lane.
On an oiled lane, conditions referred to as "ice" and "rug" prevail. A bowling ball skids and spins on the oil until it hits the rug, the unoiled final 20 feet to the head pin, where friction suddenly converts the ball's erratic action to roll, hook or curve. Every ball thrown picks up oil from the dressed area and carries it downlane; hence the term "track" for the relatively dry path that is worn through the oil in a few hours of bowling. For the average righthanded bowler, the track is in the area from the seventh to the 14th board, counting from the right edge.
"Most houses run their oil from the foul lines to about 45 feet," explains Rogers, "but I disagree with that. I think you must get the ball into a hook pattern earlier to make better scores. I feel that 30 feet of oil is all you need. It gets you into a roll earlier so the ball has more momentum when it hits the pins."
Rogers points out the track on Lane 13, a relatively dull-looking path through the gleaming oil. "A 'crown' is legal," he says. "You're allowed a 2-to-1 ratio—two times the amount of oil in the middle as on the outside of a lane—because the bowlers play basically in the middle and wear it down faster. But the night in question, the ABC says there wasn't enough oil from, say, the seventh or eighth board to the edge. That's the amazing thing. They say there wasn't enough oil outside the eighth board."
He kneels down. "Any time you get a dry condition through here [he points at Boards 1 through 8 on the right edge of the lane] and a heavy oil condition over here [he points at the track] you're creating what they call a wall. The ball doesn't want to go over, so it rides the oil till it hits the drier boards, where it'll turn in hard, which will tend to make it hit the pocket. That's the whole thing their case is built on—the amount of oil from the outside to the inside. They're saying it was too dry here and too oily there."
The wall condition isn't always accidental, and bowling proprietors are often accused of lane doctoring to boost scores. Oil is applied to a bowling lane by a knee-high, box-shaped robot that rolls from foul line to pin deck, cleaning, buffing and spewing polish automatically. The depth of the oil at any board can be controlled by adjusting the machine.
"Sure," Rogers says with a shrug, "I know how to set up a lane outside if I want to set it up. I can make it as easy or as tough as I want to. But to make a true wall condition, you usually need to go 40 feet or so with oil. You run a heavy strip right down the middle. I don't do that." He shakes his head. "I just don't know how they got their readings."
Rogers contends that at the first inspection the spring-loaded "lane analyzer" gauge was mishandled or misread by the ABC's field representatives; that they tested an insufficient number of boards; and that later tests conducted by the ABC resulted in readings that were inconsistent with the first ones. "I get hot about it," he says, looking pained. "We had a 299 here about a month and a half earlier, and the ABC okayed it. We had a 300 here last Saturday and they okayed that.
"I tell you, the La Habra lanes that night were legal."
Rogers admits that his claims carry no more weight than any other interested observer's. Taking his own measurements after Allison's 900 would have constituted "tampering," and tests conducted days after the event are considered invalid because of changes in temperature and humidity and the inevitable deterioration of the oil condition.
Certainly there is nothing vague or arbitrary about the ABC's "Lane Dressing Inspection Report" form, which has about 3,000 words of "suggested inspection procedure" printed on its back. The information therein is so specific that it tells the inspector how the tendons and veins on the back of his hands should look when he does a "smear" test. The instructions clearly echo the ABC rule book's insistence that "dressing must be distributed gutter to gutter, and any increase or decrease in the amount of dressing must be gradual." In treating the question of track wear, the instructions concede that some drying is inevitable on the heavily used boards, but the inspector is advised, "At no time...would the edges of a lane be dried out due to bowling activity." For a high score to be sanctioned, "Dressing should always be evident on both sides of the ball path."
"We feel our inspectors have the training and experience to make a fair and honest evaluation," says Kellermann. He declines to discuss specifics of the disputed lane reports—standard ABC policy—but he rejects the notion that the ABC is a "supercop" punishing bowlers who submit high-score claims. "We approve the overwhelming majority of the claims that are submitted to the ABC," he argues. "Last year there were more than 12,000 awards in the major categories—the 298, 299, 300 and 800 series. That's 12,000 claims bowled under rules and requirements that met ABC standards. Only several hundred were not approved for one reason or another."
Of those denied, many were victims of what Kellermann calls "circumstances"—equipment malfunctions and the like. A few were willful violations. "Most of the lane operators play fully within the rules and requirements," he says, "but in a few cases people think they have to deliberately provide some help to their bowlers. We feel that if scoring is to remain meaningful, we must maintain a standard."
If that sounds cold, Kellermann submits that it is meant to be fair. "Certainly, Glenn has the credentials," he says. "He's a four-time ABC Tournament champion. He's in our Hall of Fame. But we make these decisions based on the facts, as best as they can be obtained. We can't make decisions based on sentiment or popularity."
To Allison's nephew, Ron, who is 40 years old and is as intense as his uncle is calm, Kellermann's explanation is lame. "I don't care if you put mayonnaise on the lanes," he said one recent night at the La Habra 300 Bowl. "You still couldn't carry 36 straight strikes. And the scores that night were down, even on that pair of lanes! It's hard to put into words what I feel about him. I remember when I was 13 or 14, he was bowling for the Pabst Blue Ribbon team, and he came home for a visit. He'd left his bowling ball and bowling shoes behind, but he went with me and my friends to the Friendly Hills alley in Whittier, and he said, 'I'll throw a 300 for you.' The first 12 balls he threw were all in the pocket. He shot a 300 in front of my eyes with a house ball and house shoes!"
As Ron told this story, Glenn appeared at his shoulder. Ron turned and said, "I was just telling how you bowled a 300 for me when you came home."
Glenn smiled affably. "I didn't bowl a 300," he said. "I shot 299. And the very next game, your grandfather and my wife both beat me," he added with a laugh. Then he saluted with his beer and walked away.
Ron could be excused for his confusion. Uncle Glenn once bowled a 300 game in front of his own mother on her birthday in 1964. He bowled the 900 for Jessie Thompson on her birthday.
Allison's predilection for performing well in the relaxed company of family and friends can be traced back to his youth. The Whittier Bowling Academy, where he rolled his first 300 game in open play at the age of 16, was operated by Lamar and Glada Acocks—she would be Glenn's teammate on the night of the 900, 36 years later.
Allison averaged 200 for the first time when he was 19, and bowled in his first ABC Tournament, in Los Angeles, in 1947. He won San Francisco's Washington's Birthday tournament in 1950, his first significant title, and followed it with a victory in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner event the same year. Drafted into the Army in 1951, he spent two years with the Quartermaster Corps in Korea. He returned to California and worked in a machine shop until some promoters invited him to Paramus, N.J. to appear on a new television show, Championship Bowling, hosted by Chris Schenkel. Allison jumped at it.
Allison didn't find being a professional bowler as financially rewarding as he had hoped, but his induction, in 1979, into the ABC Hall of Fame reflects his stature as one of the great team bowlers of the 1950s and '60s. He spent three years with Joe Kristof's Pabst Blue Ribbon team in Chicago and six more with the heralded Falstaff team of St. Louis, where he bowled with Jim St. John, Ron Gaudern, Billy Welu, Dick Hoover, Harry Smith, Al Savas, Norm Meyers and team captain Steve Nagy. "Glenn was very low-key," says Marzich, "but one of the cleverest bowlers I've ever known. The only guy that could rile him was Hoover." Riled or not, Allison bowled a powerful 780 series as Hoover's teammate when the two won the 1962 ABC doubles.
The era of the, great bowling teams died with formation of the Professional Bowlers Association in 1958. Allison drifted back to California and "retired," only to return to the PBA tour in 1966 for four years. In that span he won his five tour titles and four ABC tournament team championships, one with the Ace Mitchell Shur-Hooks. He retired permanently after a 730 series for an ABC Classic singles title in 1970.
"I was one of those sports figures who felt like it was never going to end," Allison says. "So when it did, I had some very tough times." After a year or so giving bowling lessons, Allison leased a bowling center near Los Angeles International Airport, which he operated as Glenn Allison Lanes until a 1976 fire badly damaged the building. A partnership in a vending-machine firm was no more successful. "I just couldn't adjust," he says. "I had the outlook of a bowler, not of a businessman." Even his bowling suffered. "I lost interest. When I was through work, I didn't care to bowl."
In 1979 Bob asked him to manage the family-owned liquor store. "I knew absolutely nothing about the business," Allison says, but working in a liquor store proved to be a restorative to his bowling game. "The store is so different from what I did all my life," he says. "It's been fun, and it's taken me out of the bowling Establishment. I think that rekindled my interest." In the past year Allison has bowled in four leagues, ending a five-year layoff from formal competition.
"Maybe I'm in a more relaxed frame of mind," he said one day last month over a cr√®me de menthe in a La Habra steak house, while he was contemplating his appeal. "And maybe I'm bowling as well as I ever have." He turned to Jessie and smiled. "It remains to be seen."
Something in the lines around Allison's eyes betrayed doubts. "I've been close to the top in bowling through many years," he said, "but I never reached it. I would have liked to have been the top money-winner on the tour, or to have been Bowler of the Year.
"But the 900 series, if it were sanctioned, that's something that could never be broken. I would always be at the top of the record books, and as far as I'm concerned, that would make me immortal." He smiled. "That's the issue. My immortality. I want it." He nodded thoughtfully. "I do want it."
Bill Taylor says, "He should get it."
For two decades Taylor, the bearded one, the Bowling Guru, the sport's most outrageous gadfly, has waged a relentless crusade, in print and in person, against the bowling Establishment.
There's hardly a trend in recent memory that hasn't met with Taylor's thunderous denunciation, and his name elicits groans and the rolling of eyes at ABC headquarters. "Don't waste too much time with Taylor," warns an official. "He's kind of a screwball in the bowling industry."
"Bill Taylor is probably the most controversial figure in bowling," says Allison, who studied bowling theory under Taylor in the mid-'60s. "But I've found him to be the most knowledgeable person I've ever talked to about the game. When he first started, his was a lone voice, but as time passes, Bill has gained many, many followers."
"If they had any sense, they'd give it to Glenn," Taylor says. "I mean, from the standpoint of satisfying public opinion, which is neither here nor there, except that in this case they know the man's a shooter. He's a shooter! And down the road, if they continue on this path, some 18-year-old who can't bowl a lick will get it."
Taylor snorts. "I've been against high scores for a long time—unearned high scores, that is—and ordinarily they'd expect to hear from me, 'Out with this score!' " His eyes narrow. "Ordinarily. But I checked the lane reports, and those lanes met the conditions specified in the rule book.
"The position of the ABC is that there was an insufficient amount of dressing on the far right side. Allison's position is that no relevance can be attached to the absence of sufficient dressing on the far right, a non-guidance area. What's relevant, in Allison's view, is that there was no line of dressing on the left side of the ball track to guide any errant shots to the strike pocket. In other words, had he executed a shot poorly enough that the ball would have tended to go left of the strike pocket, there was no oil line to keep it from doing so. Additionally, Allison claimed in his appeal that the inspectors' graphs of the oil distribution on Lanes 13 and 14 are at odds with the results of the other ABC-required written tests.
"What Glenn did was miraculous," says Taylor. "You could bring the top 20 stars in tonight, say, 'This is your pair of lanes, how do you want 'em? We'll fix 'em exactly that way and you can come in every Tuesday night for the rest of your life....' " Taylor's eyes blaze. "...And a 900 series wouldn't happen. That's how miraculous it was."
Although he's a firm believer in standards, Taylor treats the ABC's inspection procedures with undisguised contempt. "They say in the instructions that more oil may be put in the middle if it makes a gradual curve to the edges, so they're speaking of a slight crown, a slight arch," he says. "But there are no numerical references. One guy says this is a crown and another guy says that is a crown. It's like a cop in a little town in Georgia who pulls you over for speeding, and you say, 'Where's the speed limit sign? I didn't see a sign!' And he says, 'Well, you're just going too fast.' " Taylor shrugs. "Well, how fast is too fast? They won't say!
"The ABC's in a double bind. On one side they've got the bowling hierarchy, the high-average bowlers, in favor of this score—they recognize Glenn's feat. On the other hand, the ABC has this program they think they've been on since 1970 of not honoring unearned scores." Taylor leans forward. "They keep pointing their fingers at the proprietors. They keep saying, 'crooked bowling proprietors.' But the ABC is the main culprit. They approved the pins that don't want to stand up, they approved the balls, they approved the lanes—they even approved the bowler, by putting Glenn in their Hall of Fame! How can they not approve the scores?"
The ABC, if it weren't holding its tongue, could fairly accuse Taylor of trafficking in sentiment, not to mention opportunism, in spearheading the Allison appeal, especially when Taylor suggests the ABC can't sanction all the high score claims it receives because the award rings it gives away are too costly. But other Allison supporters with no ax to grind are equally in favor of sanctioning the 900, even, they suggest, if the lanes weren't right. This heresy—akin to allowing a wind-aided sprint record to stand or accepting a course record by a golfer using an illegal ball—derives from many bowlers' conviction that Allison's 900 was one of the greatest achievements in sports history, regardless of conditions, and should be recognized as such.
The Allison faithful like to bring up the ABC's precision ball-rolling machine, which can hit the pocket unfailingly at precisely controlled speeds, but which has never bowled a 300 game, much less a 900 series. "I don't know if that's really pertinent," responds the ABC's Kellermann.
Allison points out that when the crowd at La Habra urged him to see how long he could keep striking after bowling the 900, he threw four more strikes and then left a solid 8-pin with a perfect pocket hit. "I threw that ball as well as I threw any all night," Allison says. "Probably better, in fact, than 50 percent of the strikes I got." Similarly, the next weekend in a mixed-doubles tournament, Allison reports that he bowled poorly in the first game, "but the next three games I hit the pocket on all but one shot. And I shot a total of 637." He chuckles. "That's 263 pins less. But you see, I didn't have the right speed. I didn't have the right bowling ball. I didn't have the right head. Or something. It wasn't the same."
What, then, was so right about the night of July 1?
"That particular night was strange," he says. "I bowled the early league, and I was trying out a new ball I'd just drilled. And I shot a three-game series of 578. I finished with three strikes, but I wasn't happy with the way the ball worked, so I put that one away and dug out another one, my Columbia Yellow Dot. And when I started bowling again, everything just fell into place. My speed was perfect. My composure was perfect. It must have been, the way it turned out.
"I was in a daze from the 18th strike on, but I never thought anything about back-to-back 300s until I got the eighth strike in the second game. Then I started to become a little nervous. After I got the second 300, my exact thought was 'Maybe I can shoot a big 800 series.' I was looking forward to shooting 240 or 250 and getting a big 800. I never dreamed of shooting a third 300."
Not, at least, until after the eighth strike in the third game, when Allison approached his brother and confessed that his knees were starting to shake. "He turned pretty white," Glada Acocks recalls. "Because that's when I thought I really had a chance to do it," Allison says. "Up to then, I kept thinking, 'Gee, I can shoot 850,' or 'Gee, I can shoot 860.' But after I threw the eighth one, I knew I just needed four more strikes for...[He hesitates.]...well, immortality in the bowling game."
Allison says his ball in the 10th frame reflected his nervousness: "I knew I was getting to the foul line badly and I knew I was going to pull the shot to the left. I tried to flatten it, not get the lift on the ball—an instinctive move to make it softer so that it wouldn't hook. And I did. It wasn't where it should have been—it sailed into the pocket high—but the head pin came off the wall and hit the 4-pin and the 4-pin fell into the 9-pin.
"I was lucky. That's really the one that I needed to beat Allie Brandt's record. After that, I hit a moment of calm. The last two shots I threw probably as well as I threw any shot all night long."
Allison doesn't remember much else about his feat. "I don't think it would have been possible if I hadn't been a real student of the game," he says. "If I hadn't studied the game thoroughly with Bill Taylor, I don't think there's any conceivable way I could have achieved the 900.
"Afterward my immediate reaction was, 'I did it!' I had tears in my eyes."
Glenn Allison, Mr. 900, thought it was impossible? He smiles. "Well, in 80-some years it's never officially been done."
The week after he bowled the 900, Columbia Industries, the delighted manufacturers of the ball that carried 36 straight strikes, bought Allison's ball back from him for $3,000. It will ultimately be displayed in a glass case in the lobby of Columbia's San Antonio factory, and the company plans to show it at trade shows and tournaments across the country. Allison takes calm enjoyment from the sudden flurry of endorsement offers, picture-taking sessions and interviews. "I've even had an offer to tour the Far East," he says.
Allison took several days off from the liquor store in September to compete in the PBA Seniors tournament in Canton, Ohio, where he was met by a small army of bowling writers and reporters anxious to discuss the 900 series. What skepticism they may have felt evaporated when Allison stunned fans at the Friday night pro-am event by bowling five straight strikes to end his second game and then 12 more in the third for an in-your-face 300 game.
"Talk about Reggie being Mr. October," Marzich says, laughing. "Glenn is Mr. 300."
"At 52 years old," Glada Acocks says, "Glenn Allison is throwing a better ball than he did as a touring pro."
Those assessments might beguile some bowlers into thinking they should rejoin the PBA circuit, but Allison says that his legs can no longer tolerate 42 games in three days under stress. "I'm in the liquor business," he says, "and I intend to stay in the liquor business." His enthusiastic brother and nephew, he's quick to point out, have encouraged him to take time off from work to reap the rewards and honors from his 900 series. "I think we're going to work it out so I can have my fantasy and be in the real world, too."
Taylor, meanwhile, is orchestrating Allison's court challenges to the ABC ruling: He intends to hand the Allison case over to Bob (The Bowling Barrister) Weaver, an attorney from the state of Washington, who's also president of the Bowling Writers Association of America.
To meet the anticipated legal costs, the La Habra 300 Bowl hopes to hold a benefit pro-am event, and other supporters have organized an appeal for $1 donations from Southern California bowlers, with the goal of raising from $50,000 to $100,000. St. Louis bowler Ray Orf, who tried unsuccessfully to get the courts to recognize his rejected 890 series 10 years ago, has offered to turn the legal files of his efforts over to the Allison cause.
Allison faces the future calmly. If immortality is denied him, he's at least confident that his stature among bowling mortals is assured.
"The bowling world has accepted my 900," he says, "and I'm pleased with that. Whether or not the ABC sanctions it, my 900 is something that the world knows about. And, of course, I'll always know that I did it."
Allison's feat is proclaimed without and within: his portrait displayed at the lanes where he rolled his 900, the pinsweeps bearing his name.
Allison at the family store and posing with teammates from the big night: (from left) his girl, Jessie Thompson, Dennis Curley, Rick Moffat, Ben Gerzon and Glada Acocks.
The ABC doesn't think the only thing spacy about bowling guru Taylor is his singly voided pin.
Kellermann found the lanes to be less than perfect.
Bowling's R2-D2 spreads dressing on a lane according to the settings on its instrument panel. The flow of "oil" may be further controlled by inserting plastic shims into the machine.
Dave Lumley, manager of ABC's testing and research center, conducts tactile (top) and smear tests for excess oil, then takes a reading with the standard lane analyzer.
Brandt in 1955: He's still the record holder.
Allison (middle row, left) with the 1960 national champions.
LANE ANALYSIS SAMPLES
Lane board numbers: Oil distribution
0: 40 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
5: 150 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
10: 0 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
15: 20 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
15: 0 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
20: 30 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
15: 40 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
10: 110 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
5: 130 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
0: 130 [LA HABRA LANE 13]
0: 140 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
5: 130 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
10: 140 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
15: 130 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
20: 130 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
15: 140 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
10: 130 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
5: 140 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
0: 140 [PROPER INITIAL DISTRIBUTION OF OIL]
This graph shows friction board by board as determined by mechanical analysis. The measurements were taken 21 feet from the foul line. The numbers on the sides of the graph do not indicate linear measurement but degree of friction, a factor largely determined by the amount of oil present. The more oil, the lower the number and the greater the friction. The black line shows an acceptable pattern of dressing as first applied; the red line reflects the pattern on Lane 13 right after Allison's 900. The ABC approves considerable variation from the ideal as a result of play, but has held in this case that there was insufficient oil on the outer boards at various checkpoints on both La Habra's lanes 13 and 14.