My Nickel’s Worth by Randy Ooney
I lost a friend and a teammate this month, Tommy Gibbs. While mourning his passing, it gave me pause to remember a friend from the past. So as my nom de plume mentor, Andy Rooney does on occasion, I wish to set the satire aside briefly, and relate a chapter from the past that I will not forget.
NABI stands for National Amateur Bowlers Inc., a bowling tournament club for members, and very similar to the ABT. A very personable gentleman named Jim Hanson was the director of the NABI for the Minneapolis area. Jim and his family did a great job hosting tournaments at many different bowling centers in the Twin Cities, and I was fortunate to compete in many of them, meet other bowling enthusiasts, and once in awhile, pocket some cash.
In the twentieth century edition of the gay nineties, NABI allowed only bowlers with an average under 200. Wood lanes, urethane balls, I was a 192 average bowler and proud of it. It was at the NABI tournaments that I met and became very good friends with Jim Hagen. He was about 10 years my senior, so of course I called him Grandpa
NABI hosted a national year end tournament week in Las Vegas each year. It consisted of about 12 different format tournaments, re-entries
were allowed in most of them, so you could bowl all week if you had enough money to throw at them. There were also sweepers at the high end of the Showboat if you wanted something to do between tournaments. (Grandpa and I shot a couple, but we spent most of our ‘tween time at the craps tables and the buffets.)
In 1993, leaving Minneapolis, Jim had someone to see in Arizona, so we planned to meet at the Showboat at an appointed time the night before the tournament. We practiced about 6 games each on the house shot and both of us were lights out. I don’t think either of us had a game under 225. This was going to be easy, and we could not wait for the tournaments to start so we could pocket the cash and take it to the craps tables. I knew a little about lane conditions, and having to adjust to various patterns, but I found out that I needed to learn a lot more that week The NABI used a pattern that was not friendly to nearly everyone who hooked the ball. Jim and I did not win much on the lanes, but we did have a few good runs with the dice. Spending eight days in Las Vegas can be dangerous for someone in my tax bracket, but I managed to budget and stay away from the ATMs. Jim and I had a lot of fun, not winning money that year. So much, in fact, that we went back the next year. We were ready for it this time, and actually cashed in a couple of events. The most fun of the second trip was watching the grimacing faces of the rookies.
Grandpa and I went to the Showboat each year from 1993 – 1996, and each year we returned home wondering why it was so difficult for a 190 plus average bowler to bowl a 550 set. After that, Mr. Hanson retired as NABI director to pursue other interests. Jim Hagen and I were about to be banned anyhow. Either all that bowling made us better, or maybe it was synthetic lanes and reactive balls, but in any case we were over the max average allowed by NABI. I turned 50 and hooked up with Grandpa again in the Midwest Senior Classic tournaments. Jim was already a super senior, but still threw a powerful shot.
It was about this time 7 years ago, Jim Hagen left us. I miss him dearly. Whether it was buffet brunch at the Showboat, bowling, wise cracking, or throwing the dice, we were always on the same level. Never too high, never too low. You just can’t replace friends like Jim Hagen.