Louisiana bowler continues family tradition, makes 50th appearance at USBC Open Championships

By Daniel Farish
USBC Communications

It was 1970 in Knoxville, Tennessee, when Leo Plaia of River Ridge, Louisiana, first bowled in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.

On Wednesday night at the South Point Bowling Plaza, he made his 50th consecutive appearance at the event and received a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate his achievement.

Plaia also became the second member of his family to join the USBC record book for reaching a participation milestone at one of the organization's national events.

His mother, Frances Plaia of Mandeville, Louisiana, made her 50th consecutive appearance at the USBC Women's Championships in 2015. She was a co-founder of the Zodiacs of New Orleans, which has become known as "The World's Best-Dressed Bowling Team."

PlaiaFrances2015WCForWeb250x140The elder Plaia began her Women's Championships career in 1966 at the New Orleans event, but it wasn't until 1969 in San Diego when she teamed with Linda Prattini to begin creating the most elaborate and colorful outfits the tournament had ever seen.

The initial premise was to protest the tournament's dress code and make a statement, and Plaia never imagined she would be serving as an inspiration to younger generations of bowlers, or that the Zodiacs would ultimately become a staple at the Women's Championships.

"Momma made the best outfits because she always took her time and never rushed it," Plaia said. "I went with her a few times when the two tournaments were close to one another. I enjoyed being able to watch her bowl, then drive to my tournament."

Plaia began his bowling career when he was in the Navy, competing against fellow sailors at the bowling center on base. After a few trips to the lanes, he began organizing competitions against other ships as they arrived in port.

Once Plaia returned home from his two years of service, he went straight to the local bowling center and started practicing. Still a newcomer to the sport, Plaia hadn't heard of leagues until one of the local bowlers approached him.

"One of the guys asked me if I wanted to join a league, and I didn't even know what that was," said Plaia, a 78-year-old right-hander. "I joined one, and then another, and all of a sudden I was bowling in seven leagues per week."

After a few years, he was invited to join a group of bowlers from New Orleans headed to the 1970 USBC Open Championships in Knoxville. It only took one trip for Plaia to become hooked, and he told them to keep his name on the list for the following year.

Plaia continued traveling with the same group throughout the early stages of his tournament career, but it became rare if the same five guys stuck together for more than a handful of years.

"If I bowled five or six years with the same guys, it was a record," said Plaia, who competes weekly at AMF All-Star Lanes in Kenner, Louisiana. "We'd have guys quit every few years because the shot was too hard, and they didn't want to mess with it. Eventually the guy who organized our group quit, so I took over. We have a pretty solid team right now."

One thing Plaia made sure of, whether he was a team member or a team captain, was that the trip was scheduled months in advance to avoid any issues.

"I would plan everything around the Open Championships," Plaia said. "I would lock down dates and times and make sure all our people were lined up. It was never an issue getting to the tournament."

Plaia said there were no nerves as far as his 50th appearance was concerned. He approached it the same as the previous 49 years, and it served him well as he led his team, Prestige Homes Realty, LLC of Louisiana, with games of 160, 198 and 213 for a 571 series.

"The first game, I struggled, but I figured it out and stayed clean," Plaia said. "I treated it like any other year. Just figure out the lanes as quickly as possible, throw strikes and make any spare I leave."

Plaia's favorite city throughout his 50 years at the Open Championships has been Syracuse, New York, a city he has seen three times for bowling, most recently in 2018.

In his Open Championships career, Plaia has knocked down 84,487 pins for a career average of 187.7. That includes sets of 571 in team, 569 in singles and 564 in doubles for a 1,704 all-events total this year at the South Point Bowling Plaza.

Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page.