South Point Bowling Plaza welcomes 2019 USBC Open Championships Matt Cannizzaro March 10, 2019 LAS VEGAS - The atmosphere Saturday at the South Point Bowling Plaza was a combination of United States Bowling Congress Open Championships tradition and Las Vegas flair, mixed with the warmth and familiarity of a homecoming parade.The first of the approximately 10,500 five-player teams expected for this year's tournament, plus their friends and family, supporters, bowling fans and curious South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa guests, were on-hand to help usher in the 116th edition of the USBC Open Championships.This year's event marks the tournament's fourth trip to the Entertainment Capital of the World and second visit to the Bowling Plaza, where it first was held in 2017. Nearby Cashman Center played host in 1986 and 2009.The 2019 Open Championships will run daily until July 8 and bring more than 50,000 bowlers, in three average-based divisions, to South Point.One lucky participant on the opening-squad, Josh Hepp of Alton, Iowa, randomly was selected as this year's "Joe Bowler," a tradition that dates to 1951 and earned him the responsibility of throwing out the ceremonial first ball of the tournament. "It was really neat to be a part of the opening ceremony, and it was something I've never done before," said Hepp, who made his 18th Open Championships appearance and rolled a seven-count to kick off the tournament. "To be here with guys like Marshall Holman and Mike Aulby, guys I watched growing up and who paved the way, and them bowling the same day as me, was surreal. To be Joe Bowler was fun. I was nervous at first, but then I just tried to embrace it and have fun. I enjoyed it."After his ceremonial march to the lanes Saturday, and while he waited for his opportunity to throw the first ball, Hepp took his throne and presided over the opening ceremony. The festivities included encouraging words from local and bowling dignitaries, a comedic and vocal sampling from Frankie Scinta, who is performing at the South Point Showroom, a ribbon cutting with representatives from South Point, Las Vegas Events, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and USBC and the traditional Mass Ball Shot Ceremony. After the fun, 55 teams hit the lanes for three games of team competition, and the 2019 event got its first leaders.In the Regular Division (combined averages of 876 and above), SKOB of Lakeland, Florida, used a big finish to surge to the top of the leaderboard with a 2,946 total. The effort included games of 982, 944 and 1,020. Some members of the two-team group will be participating in the upcoming National Golden Ladies Classic and USBC Senior Queens, so the timing worked out for them to make a stop at the Open Championships for the first squad of the year. Amanda Flood paced SKOB with a 684 series and was followed by Stan Sprow (595), Joey Flood (587), Keith Cipielewski (545) and Beth Owen-Cipielewski (535). "We all know each other's games well, we pump each other up and we can help line up the others, if needed, so that makes us a good team," Owen-Cipielewski. "Tonight was pretty awesome. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we can check off our lists and say we did it. And, anytime you can take the lead is awesome, too."The Standard Division (combined averages of 776-875) was led by Schliep Consulting LLC 1 of Shakopee, Minnesota, with games of 885, 948 and 1,016 for a 2,849 total, six pins better than last year's winning score. Keith Wendt led the way with a 684 set and was joined by Nate Marks (570), Mike Nawrocki (569), Phillip Langowski (568) and Sean Finnerty (458).Maple Family Centers of Long Beach, New York, topped the Classified (combined averages of 775 and below) standings with a 2,422 total on games of 792, 805 and 825.William Latham tossed a 551 series and was followed by Tim Rice (530), Joseph LaSpina (476), Ronald Bonomo (473) and John LaSpina (392).The South Point Bowling Plaza, which opened in late 2014, played host to the USBC Women's Championships in 2016, before welcoming the Open Championships for the first time a year later.Competition at the 2019 Open Championships resumes Sunday morning with the first doubles and singles squad of the year. The event will run daily from 7 a.m. until approximately 3 a.m., with some shorter days during March and early April. This year, the South Point property also is home to the Bowlers Journal Championships presented by USBC, a side event that allows bowlers to enjoy additional competition while in the host city. The Bowlers Journal Championships and team practice sessions are taking place at South Point's traditional bowling center, a short walk from the Bowling Plaza. Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page.