by Randy Ooney
My Nickel’s Worth by Randy Ooney
While Baseball, Football, Hockey, and Basketball are major team sports, professional Bowling and Golf have been relegated to individual accomplishment and may the strongest survive. A ballplayer will get paid the same this week whether he goes 10 for 20 with 4 home runs, or a scratch single and three errors. The pay structure for most pro sports teams is based on what you did in the past, where the pro bowler and golfer are paid by what they did in the current week. Once every two years a couple of dozen golfers will choose up sides and play a team event called the Ryder Cup. Fan interest is always heightened at this event. I’m not sure if it is based on patriotism, or just something different to watch. The PBA will hold an occasional gimmick doubles tournament, but professional team bowling is nowhere to be found.
But if you were around in 1961, you may remember when Eddie Elias’ fledgling Professional Bowlers Tour was challenged by the National Bowling League. Elias did not oppose a team option for bowlers trying to earn a living, however he was protective of his stars, Don Carter, Dick Weber, and others. On October 12, 1961, the 10 team National Bowling League was born. Total payroll was budgeted at $800,000; each player received between $6,000 and $20,000 for their efforts. Not a bad salary in those times. I think the Roller Derby captains had something to do with naming NBL teams. In the Eastern division we had the Detroit Thunderbirds, Kansas City Stars, New York Gladiators, Omaha Packers, (I think their fans were called Cornheads), and Twin City Skippers. The Western division was the Dallas Broncos, Fort Worth Panthers, Fresno Bombers, Los Angeles Toros, and San Antonio Cavaliers. The league could not get a television contract and had to rely on local support. Many different types of venues were set up for the bowlers. Dallas built a 72 lane center with an area designated for the pros, while other cities converted movie theaters or assembly halls and installed 4 or 6 lanes in an arena setting. The Twin City Skippers performed at the Convention Center just south of Metropolitan Stadium, and frequently practiced at Biltmore Lanes in Edina. Poor San Antonio did not have a local arena, and played all of their games on the road.
It was a tough sell, and the teams from Omaha, San Antonio, and Kansas City folded before the end of the year. Los Angeles caved shortly after, and the other six teams finished out the season. The year end playoff was won by the Detroit Thunderbirds over our own Twin City Skippers on May 6, 1962. I guess you could call it the forgotten World Series. (You could call it that but people will probably look at you funny.) Glenn Olson, Bob Strampe, Earl Johnson, and Clyde Hobbs were members of the Skippers. There were two or three others so if any of you baby boomers know the team roster, hop on the forum and give a shout. Inquiring minds want to know.
Thank you, Wikipedia, and Bongo Bob Johnson for providing much of the information included in this article.