Republished with permission from Pro Shop Operator Magazine
Studying the Sport
Q&A with Neil Stremmel
When Pro Shop Operator magazine wants to find out what’s going on at USBC Headquarters, Neil Stremmel has all the answers. As the Managing Director, National Governing Body, Stremmel oversees the Equipment Specification Area, Team USA, USBC Coaching, USBC Sport Bowling, the Rules Team, and much more. The former USBC Technical Director now offers an update on technology’s ever-changing role in the sport.
PSO -- You’ve been operating out of the new International Training & Research Center for several years now; what research projects have you been able to complete (or start) in your new facility that you may not have been able to do in the old one in Greendale?
NS -- The ITRC was designed to be more efficient and accomplish different things. Our previous ball thrower, Harry, was getting to the end of his life, so as we designed the new ball thrower, we were able to design the ITRC to accommodate it. Harry weighed 1,350 pounds and needed a hydraulic jack and rollers to be moved. EARL weighs 5,400 pounds and moves like a hovercraft. The ITRC approaches on the Specs side had to be beefed up to handle that additional weight. EARL has allowed us to accomplish some things that we would not been able to previously. EARL has increased accuracy, a wider range of axis rotation and tilt and the ability to change lay-down points and launch angles, which means more reliable and repeatable data than before. Additionally, we can test a wider range of angles with BowlScore now (the ceiling in the BowlScore room was designed with a “hole” in it to accomplish this). The ITRC was also designed for live TV; it has a full pro-shop and an exercise training room as well.
PSO -- In January of this year, a new specification was established that requires bowling ball manufacturers to accurately mark the key axes on bowling balls; how has this been received and why was there a need for this specification?
NS -- The new specifications on ball markings have been well received by pro shop operators. This is not regulation for regulation’s sake, this is a practical specification. The markings on undrilled bowling balls are very important to pro shop operators in the process of laying out bowling balls. By creating a standard for definition and indication of the important axes of a bowling ball, the pro shop operator can feel more confident that they are able to provide their customer with a bowling ball that will perform as expected. We are trying to prevent $200 mistakes by providing a standard for markings. For example, when you’re operating a car, the shift lever is labeled P-R-N-D-L, either left to right, top to bottom, or clockwise. This is a standard set by the U.S. government. By having this standard, I can get in any car and operate it properly. However, if I select R and the car goes forward, there is a definite problem. This thought can be applied to bowling balls. If I select an axis or marking to use for laying out bowling balls under the impression that it is one thing and in reality it is another, there will be some problems in the way that ball performs on the lane, just like the car. What we are trying to do is protect the pro shop’s investment and their customer’s investment (USBC members). It’s one way we can try to prevent the unnecessary loss of members due to their dissatisfaction with a bowling ball through something that could have been prevented.
PSO – A number of years ago there seemed to be a significant amount of effort placed on ball motion studies; what studies are being worked on at this time regarding ball motion or others that impact the bowling ball?
NS -- The ball motion study was completed and published in 2006 and 2007. The results and the detailed presentation are still available on Bowl.com on the Equipment Specifications page. The critical factors list that was obtained in that study is still used today to prioritize areas of testing. High on the list was surface roughness and RG – new specs have been implemented in those areas. Last year, we published a report on static weights showing how if you go outside USBC specifications a ball may perform erratically. There is a video demonstrating that point as well, and while static weights was low on the list, it made sense to do some studies since that was an area in which we have some significant specs already and maybe they were not really needed. Turns out there are.
PSO -- On the “training” side of the facility; what activities have been taking place other than televised tournaments?
NS -- Youth camps, clinics, individual lessons, theme camps, college and high school training, national team training, lane play seminars, coaches training, ball motion seminars.
PSO -- The ITRC has held several televised events and you have several senior women’s events scheduled this year; how does conducting events like these impact the facility and the sport?
NS -- It’s great to get the visibility for the facility and the entire International Bowling Campus. While it may be one thing to read or hear about the ITRC, it’s quite another to see it for yourself, either in person or on national TV. Hosting a major event there allows us to talk about the different ways we use the facility. On this year’s Queens TV show, we ran a two-minute feature talking about the equipment testing and the groups that come to train there, including Team USA. It showed why the ITRC is unique among all training facilities in the world, and how we use it to benefit bowlers everywhere.
PSO -- The Bowling Combine for College Prospects is scheduled for a second appearance in early August; how is this activity coming along? What will take place and how can this type of event have an impact on the sport?
NS -- This event has generated tremendous interest and is sold out for the second year. The Bowling Combine connects bowling and education which has a very positive impact. If we are able to ease the process of moving high school bowlers to the collegiate level, it is an important step in our vision to create lifelong bowlers. Some of the combine applicants were not able to compete in the North Pointe Junior Gold Championships and might never be seen by a college coach were it not for this event. We see The Bowling Combine as an event that will grow in significance and become an important destination for more college coaches in the future.
PSO -- You stated in our last discussion that “most likely by year three of operation, (ITRC would be) a self-funding business;” how close are you to making that a reality and in what ways are funds being created?
NS -- As awareness of the ITRC grows, we are seeing more customers and developing new revenue sources. Teams from all zones in the world have booked training time, numerous college events are conducted in the center annually and corporate functions are on the rise. It’s rare to have a stretch without a significant booking in the center. Given the fact that ITRC is shared facility with BPAA and we have operational contribution and use from several IBC entities, I would rather not get into a specific financial analysis, but overall we are pleased with way the business end of the ITRC is developing.
PSO -- USBC has created a program that designates other training facilities as Gold Level Regional Coaching Development Facilities; how is this beneficial to USBC when at the same time USBC is attempting to attract the same audiences to its facility?
NS -- Connecting more bowlers with USBC certified coaches is a key strategic goal for USBC. We would love to see as many successful bowling training facilities around the country keeping coaches and bowlers engaged in the sport as possible. The Regional Development Facilities program was created to help potential coaches train and attend conferences closer to home to make this process more economically feasible. Not everyone can travel to Arlington. It opens up opportunities for coaches and their bowlers to have access to Gold Level coaches. Simply put, these are extensions of USBC Coaching. The facilities help us to promote what we do in the Coaching Certification and Development Department, giving us that grassroots touch to our coaches and bowlers.
PSO -- Another somewhat conflicting activity is Hammer’s Save Bowling movement that introduces The Skillcap handicap system which adjusts for the great fluctuation in lane conditions; this activity seems like something USBC should be implementing?
NS -- I’m glad you asked that question. A while back, I published a series of articles on how to implement a slope system. It is a very complex issue so it was, of course, a fairly complex solution. We’ve looked at it from a statistical point of view as well. Utilizing multiple bowlers from multiple centers and comparing overlapping data. None of this has yielded a workable method to date. Hammer’s ability to start a similar endeavor and create awareness is great. A consumer brand has the ability to present this type of system without the same expectation of accountability and statistical accuracy that USBC would have as the National Governing Body. I hope their concept gains traction and can become something useful to the entire industry.
PSO -- At the recent annual USBC Convention, delegates voted down an amendment involving a dues increase; what projects does this action impact on the research and testing side of the sport?
NS -- I hope our delegates and members understand that continuing to vote down funding for the National Governing Body of the sport will eventually cause damage. A quality research study can take several years. If delegates deny USBC funding, we may be unable to initiate long-term research. Fortunately, the majority of our delegates understand all this. We just need to educate a few more to cross the two-thirds mark.
PSO -- You are USBC’s technical representative on the “world scene” with World Tenpin Bowling Association; what upcoming changes could we see from this group as far as equipment and/or specifications?
NS -- I’ve been on the WTBA Technical Committee for 12 years now and currently serve as the chair. We’ve been able to make some good and unique changes over the years like a limit of six balls, multiple pattern championships, surface adjustments in between games, 12 named oil patterns as part of long, medium and short pattern banks, and so on. We tested a one-ball concept a few years ago as well. Right now the main focus is on the world tour, getting world sponsors and getting on the short list for the next IOC Olympic Sport vote. Kevin Dornberger is working on these areas very well and I hope we all continue to make some significant progress over the next couple of years!