BATON ROUGE, La. - Joseph Egofske of Monee, Ill., and Don Larson of Fort Dodge, Iowa, didn't know each other before their team event at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships on Thursday, but they'll now share a spot in the tournament record books.
The two claimed their places in USBC Open Championships history as they celebrated 50 years on the tournament lanes.
Egofske was the first to make the ceremonial march down Center Aisle at the Baton Rouge River Center as he became the 144th bowler in 109 years of competition to reach the milestone. Larson wasn't far behind.
The five-decade journey has given Egofske and his wife, Betty, the chance to see all corners of the United States. They've driven to more than 40 of his 50 appearances, often turning the travel opportunities into multi-week adventures.
"It was nice to be honored today," said Egofske, an 82-year-old right-hander, who made his Open Championships debut at the 1963 event in Buffalo, N.Y. "My wife was with me today, and she has been to at least 40 tournaments. We have driven to many over the years, and we drove this year."
One of Egofske's teammates in Baton Rouge this year was Frank Salapatek, who celebrated his 58th consecutive tournament appearance. At one time, the group also included Earl Ebers Sr. and Earl Ebers Jr., who combined for 108 trips to the Open Championships from 1930-2005.
"It was great to share it with my teammates," Egofske said. "I've known the Salapatek family for many years, and I've known Frank for almost 55 years. It's been a long journey, and I've taken it day-by-day and hour-by-hour."
Larson got his Open Championships start in his home state in 1962 when the tournament was held in Des Moines, Iowa.
His initial reason for signing up was to get a close-up look at the latest automatic pinsetters, which first were used at the Open Championships in 1957, since he recently had purchased Ridgewood Lanes and was interested in a potential upgrade.
The 78-year-old right-hander enjoyed a 35-year career in the bowling business and has been even more dedicated to the Open Championships, which he can attribute to the support of his friends and teammates. He now has bowled with the same team for 25 years.
"The ceremony was beautiful," said Larson, who had both of his knees replaced a few years ago and also is an avid tennis player. "I didn't expect anything like that, and it was really great. To get through prostate cancer, kidney stones and knee replacements and not miss a tournament, is pretty good. I've been really lucky. Plus, I got to share it with my teammates, who have been very loyal and great to me over the years, and that is special."
This year on the lanes, Larson shot 405 in doubles, 394 in team and 382 in singles for a 1,181 all-events total. In 50 tournament appearances, he has knocked down 75,367 pins for a career average of 170.9.
Egofske's 2012 Open Championships campaign ended with a 463 series in doubles, 426 in singles and 400 in team for 1,289. In his 50 years on the championship lanes, he has knocked down 75,518 pins for a 168 average.
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.