SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Not every bowling team carries a signed certificate from a state governor when traveling to the USBC Women's Championships, but Lake Lizards of Champlin, Minn., is in a class all its own.
Sporting a Certificate of Distinction signed in 2000 by former governor (and professional wrestler) Jesse Ventura, the Lake Lizards team members were the envy of their fellow bowlers at the Oncenter Convention Center for a few reasons this year.
Their ongoing sense of tradition is shown in their retro bowling shirts embroidered with their grandmothers' names or nicknames, they are full of good humor and they seek adventure in each host city they visit.
"We always compete around Mother's Day in honor of our late mom, Jacki Hennes, who started this team and the annual trip to nationals many years ago," said team captain Kristy Hennes Wachholz, who is one of three sisters on the team. "Mom also created the tradition each year of one of us wearing a red team vest, which has pins and patches from each of our tournaments. We still pass that vest to a different bowler each year, and to receive it, she must write and recite a poem. In subsequent years, we've also added a sash, hat and bag with photos of our competitions."
It was the red vest that inspired Governor Ventura to present them with the Minnesota's Bowling Nationals Honored Few award, lauding them for "taking their representation of the state very seriously and creating the Red Vest of Distinction."
The certificate reads: "(Bestowed) to show the honored few from other states that Minnesota is among the best bowlers (or at least the ones that have the most fun) in the nation and (are) proud of their accomplishments."
Although some team members have been to nationals for 20 years, the Lake Lizards name only has been in existence for four years. It honors their home state's 10,000 lakes and also honors their new mascot, Petey the Lizard, who they've designated the team's Flat Stanley, a popular children's story character and traveling icon. Attending his first nationals this year, Petey had his photo taken in numerous places of interest.
The ladies' shirts also are especially interesting. Not only do they reflect their grandmothers' names/nicknames, they also bear the name of their sponsor, Tickles Piano Bar. One sister even embroidered on the name of her grandma's dog because they ran out of grandma names.
"My teammates used their grandmas, Sally and Leona, and my sisters got Granny and Betty Crocker - for the holiday baking nickname ours had," Wachholz said. "But I had to take Princey, for Grandma's dog, a particularly ill-tempered Chihuahua."
The teammates love seeking adventures during their trips to the Women's Championships. They learned how to ride Segways in Reno, Nev., and played Whirleyball in Detroit.
For several years, one team member transported all of her clothes in a cooler, rather than a suitcase, so they would always have a cooler handy. Then, there was the year one woman packed a case of beer in the overhead compartment of their plane, and when they opened the hatch after landing, dozens of cans rolled down the aisle.
In Baton Rouge, La., they pinpointed a tiny town on a Louisiana map with the same family name as a team member, and then paid a visit to the residents.
"They showed us all around and treated us just like family," Kari Hennes Weston said.
The Lake Lizards finished 12th in Ruby Team in 2010, and posted a 2,150 scratch total this year in Syracuse. An additional 134 pins of handicap per game helped the team to 2,552. Wild Things of Conyers, Ga., leads Ruby team with 2,820.
Kim "Granny" Lacek led the way for Lake Lizards with a 471 series and was followed by Kristy "Princey" Wachholz (467), RaeAnn "Sally" Hennes (442), Kari "Betty Crocker" Weston (440), and Margaret "Leona" Janssen (330).
Sponsors for the 2011 USBC Women's Championships sponsors include Turning Stone Resort and Casino, official brackets sponsor, Humana, official registration sponsor, Miller Lite and Molson Canadian, official beer sponsors. Supporting sponsors include Storm Bowling Products, Nationwide Insurance, The Oncenter, Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau, Caz Limo & Tours, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, US Steltronic, official scoring system, and Brunswick, official lane provider.