Two bowlers reach 50 years at USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Gerrit DeMeulenaere (above) of Macomb, Michigan, and Joe Krajkovich of North Brunswick, New Jersey, shared the spotlight this week at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships as each celebrated 50 years of participation at the event.

Both DeMeulenaere and Krajkovich received a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin Thursday at the South Point Bowling Plaza to commemorate the milestone.

DeMeulenaere, a 77-year-old right-hander, was joined by his son, Tim, during Thursday's presentation, and his grandsons, Brad and Ryan, on the championship lanes. Tim and Ryan each made their second USBC Open Championships appearances, while Brad made his debut.

"Today tops the list as my favorite moment here, and to have my son and grandkids here is something I won't forget," DeMeulenaere said. "They started bowling a few years back, and I'm sure they're going to be doing it for a long time."

DeMeulenaere started his tournament career at the 1967 event in Miami after getting asked to join a team of bowlers he competed with in league, and he has made the trip annually since 1970.

"The only year I missed was in Madison in 1969," DeMeulenaere said. "The guy taking care of our teams put in the entries late, and that didn't make me very happy. I took over the squad for a long time after that and was able to bring quite a few teams over the years."

DeMeulenaere noted the 1971 event in Detroit as a memorable performance on the lanes because his team cracked the top 20 in the standings. He also has enjoyed the chance to see the country while competing.

"We had a lot of fun when we bowled in Mobile (1994) and stayed in Biloxi," DeMeulenaere said. "The trip to Baltimore (1982) also was fun because we took the family and were able to see Washington D.C."

This year in Las Vegas, DeMeulenaere had sets of 533 in singles, 521 in doubles and 400 in team for a 1,454 all-events total. He has knocked down 80,975 pins in his Open Championships career for a lifetime average of 182.3.

"I just wanted to keep going for as long as I could," DeMeulenaere said. "And I'll still keep going for as long I can. It really means a lot to get to 50 years. It's great, and I'm happy I could make it."

050417-Joe-Krajkovich_637Krajkovich, a 74-year-old right-hander, began his Open Championships career at the 1968 tournament in Cincinnati, making 2017 his 50th consecutive appearance.

"I was pretty pumped up, and it took me a while to settle down after the presentation," Krajkovich said. "I didn't think I would be as nervous as I was. Out of all the years I've bowled, I've never had the chance to see a 50-year presentation, so I had no idea what to expect."

Krajkovich's group this year featured 23 teams, including many bowlers who have been by his side throughout his tournament career, and he's enjoyed having their support during his journey.

He also was a bit superstitious leading up to his 50th appearance.

"I have to say when I got to 35 or 40 years, making 50 turned into a goal," Krajkovich said. "But I didn't want to talk about it. If someone asked me how many years I had in as I got closer to 50, I was reluctant to speak about it in fear that I would jinx it. I feel really blessed to be able to do this for 50 consecutive years. You have to have everything fall into place, and it just so happened to work out for me."

Like DeMeulenaere, Krajkovich got his start after being asked to bowl through a local league, and his trip to Long Beach, California, in 1972 ended up with a run toward the top of the leaderboard.

Krajkovich and his Raritan Oil teammates of Edison, New Jersey, posted a 3,089 total to finish second in Regular Team to Hamm's Beer of Minneapolis, which rolled a 3,101 total.

"That was so much fun, and it's still so fresh in my memory all of these years later," said Krajkovich, a member of the New Jersey State, Middlesex County and Somerset County Halls of Fame. "We ended up falling 12 pins short of one of the beer teams, and we never thought it would last."

In his 50th appearance, Krajkovich rolled sets of 560 in doubles, 534 in singles and 529 in team for a 1,623 all-events total to bring his career pinfall to 86,228, a 192.9 lifetime average. He has no intentions of slowing down on the championship lanes.

"As long as my body holds up and I feel good, I'm going to keep going," Krajkovich said. "I've always enjoyed it and have seen so many changes in the tournament over the years, and it's been really cool."

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