RENO, Nev. - United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Flora Mitchell of Springfield, Mo., joined another elite club of bowlers as she made her 50th appearance at the USBC Women's Championships on Sunday.
Mitchell, who was elected to the hall of fame in 1995 for meritorious service, began her Women's Championships career at the 1955 event in Omaha, Neb. The 2012 event marks her 45th-consecutive tournament, and during her career, she has competed in 27 different states and 39 cities.
The 82-year-old was escorted down the National Bowling Stadium's Center Aisle by Women's Championships Tournament Manager Eric Pierson and received a plaque, gold medallion and necklace to commemorate the milestone.
"I don't know if words can really tell you how I felt," said Mitchell, who served as the Women's International Bowling Congress Executive Secretary-Treasurer from 1975 until 1991. "It was so wonderful. To see the ladies all applauding as I came down the aisle was great. I'll always remember it. This was a special, special time for me."
Mitchell also took part in this year's opening ceremonies and rolled the ceremonial first ball to help kick off the 2012 tournament on April 14. The event will run for 86 consecutive days and conclude July 8.
"That was surprising, and I was very nervous," Mitchell said. "I practiced a little bit before to make sure I could get to the foul line. I didn't get many pins, but at least I got to throw the ball, and the ceremonial ball was something else. That was a great treat and great honor for me."
The camaraderie on the tournament lanes is a defining factor for many participants at the Women's Championships and is one of the things that have kept Mitchell coming back year after year.
"Every year, I would come back to see old friends," Mitchell said. "There was always someone I knew, and we would sit and visit and have so much fun. I love our national tournaments, and I love bowling."
Mitchell, who entered the 2012 event with a 147 average and competed in the Sapphire Division, rolled a 459 series in singles, 447 in team and 437 in doubles for a 1,343 handicap all-events score. The right-hander finished her nine games of competition with her highest game of the tournament, 187, and a resounding strike.
"That last strike meant a great deal to me," Mitchell said. "I wanted it so bad. I kept thinking, 'Flora, on your last ball, get a strike to end this great tournament,' and sure enough, I did. I was so pleased it happened that way."
Mitchell is the first of seven bowlers scheduled to make their 50th Women's Championships appearances in 2012. Also joining the elite club will be Dorothy Thompson of Shelby Township, Mich. (Apr. 29); Judy Dugas of Lafayette, La. (May 3); Mary Lou Baird of Steger, Ill. (May 5); Ann Murray of Atlanta (May 19); Suda Bailey of Cabot, Ark. (June 4) and Marie McAllister of Columbus, Ohio (June 12).
The Sapphire Division includes bowlers with averages of 149 and below, with handicap based on 100 percent of 150.
Presenting sponsors for the 2012 USBC Women's Championships are Circus Circus, Eldorado Hotel Casino and Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, Nev. Other sponsors include Harrah's Reno Casino, official brackets sponsor, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, Humana, official registration sponsor, Steltronic, official scoring system, and supporting sponsors Storm Bowling Products, Nationwide Insurance, Sands Regency Casino Hotel and Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa and MyBowlingVacation.com.