By Kevin Albarez
BATON ROUGE, La. - In five decades on the lanes at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, Richard VanRossem of Canton, Ill., has competed alongside some of the most recognizable names in the game and had the opportunity to vacation in cities all across the country.
The 77-year-old right-hander made his USBC Open Championships debut as a substitute at the 1963 event in Buffalo, N.Y., and has competed every year since. He made that first memorable trip by train, a journey that took him through part of Canada, and has since added many other fond memories.
VanRossem added a special milestone to his tournament record Monday as he became the 143rd bowler in 109 years of tournament history to make 50 Open Championships appearances. He is the first of 13 bowlers who will reach the milestone this year.
"I have been very fortunate to be able to participate in these things for all these years," said VanRossem, who received a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the occasion. "I almost dropped out about 25 years ago, but my wife said I had to keep going. My oldest son even bought me a plane ticket to Corpus Christi, Texas, the first year they had it. I was able to keep my string going."
VanRossem credits his family for the support needed to reach the 50-year plateau. The annual journey often doubled as a family vacation and has taken him to 33 cities in 21 states. His wife of 42 years has been to 40 tournaments with him and even had to fill in once.
"She got a big kick out of it," VanRossem said. "We had to buy her a ball because she didn't have her ball with her, but it was a lot of fun."
Among VanRossem's favorite tournament memories is bowling next to one of the most famous teams to compete at the Open Championships.
"I remember one year we bowled right beside the famous Budweiser team," VanRossem said. "We really weren't that far behind them score-wise. They had Dick Weber, Pat Patterson and Don Carter."
On the lanes this year, VanRossem shot 513 in singles, 467 in team and 448 in doubles for a 1,428 all-events total. In 50 tournament appearances, he has knocked down 80,592 pins for a career average of 179.
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.