2020 OC Bracket Challenge - Participation & Milestones

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The introduction of the 2020 OC Bracket Challenge was well-received, and there has been some great discussion online. Many thanks to those who have participated so far. Keep the votes and comments coming!

To read more about the Challenge, click HERE.

We're now moving on to the "Participation & Milestones" quadrant, where we'll recognize and celebrate some of the people and moments whose dedication and impact have shaped the foundation of the USBC Open Championships and allowed the event to evolve and grow for nearly 120 years.

We've got details for each match, along with insight and picks from the OC public relations staff and some special guests.

Remember to visit the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page each day to cast your votes for each match!

Participation vs. Pinfall

This choice isn't as much about who reached the milestones as it is about the milestones themselves.

Which is a taller task? Which one makes you, whoa!?

- Three bowlers in Open Championships history have participated for more than seven decades.

USBC Hall of Famer Bill Doehrman set the bar, participating 71 consecutive times from 1908 to 1981. His lone win came in the team event in 1922. Joe Norris, also a USBC Hall of Famer, collected three Eagles, while competing 71 times from 1926 until 2000. Sylvester Thiel was the most recent bowler to cross the 70-year plateau, and his record-tying 71 years were bowled from 1940-2016. He did not win any titles at the OC.

All three participation pioneers also are members of the coveted 100,000-Pin Club, but this vote isn't about overall success and accolades, it's about deciding what's more impressive - longevity or performance.

- USBC Hall of Famer Bill Lillard Sr. averaged more than 200 for the first 60 years of his Open Championships career, an incredible feat across so many transitions in our ever-evolving sport.

In 2015, his 68th and final OC appearance, Lillard delivered a strike to become the event's all-time pinfall leader, and he finished his career having toppled 124,087 pins. The eight-time OC titlist passed Norris, who previously topped the career pinfall list with a 123,770 total.

Again, we're not voting on who was better, we're looking to decide what's more significant - how many years you put in or how many pins you knock down - which may not always be as intertwined.


Matt Cannizzaro (OC PR Manager since 2005):
Why: The ease and rate at which pins fall has, and will, continue to change with advancements of the game. What once took 60 or 65 years now may take 50 or 55 for some competitors.

Perhaps the same can be said about the ease of travel over time, but the idea of doing something, something athletic and competitive for more than seven decades seems unfathomable.

Based on how I feel at 41, I can't imagine the determination it will take to make the trip to the OC at 90, which is approximately how old I'd be for my 71st event. That's if everything in my life and with my health allows me to compete for another 50 years consecutively. Wowza.

Daniel Farish (OC PR Specialist since 2019): Participation
Why: I hemmed and hawed over this one for a good 30 minutes. Both milestones are examples of the extreme dedication needed to place your name in the history books of the Open Championships. Too many of the 50-year guys I interviewed in 2019 told stories of how they put off surgeries or bowled injured or skipped weddings and funerals to bowl. You may call that crazy; I call it passion.


Duane Hagen (OC Tournament Director since 2008):
Why: This is truly a "tough one," as both are monumental testimonials to perseverance and excellence.
That being said, my vote is for 71 years of participation (especially Doehrman's 71 consecutive).
I believe the pinfall record will be challenged, but 71 years - WHOA!

Fran Piraino (longtime bowling writer and historian in Syracuse area): Participation
Why: While both of these are significant, participation longevity at the OC is the most impressive feat. To have not one, but three, individuals compete in the tournament for 70-plus years, especially during their golden years when they could have just retired, is inspiring to me.

Bob Johnson (Bowlers Journal International): Pinfall
Why: Lillard is a legend for several reasons, including this one. To average as high as he did over so many years in the tournament is a truly amazing feat. And, it's not like 68 years isn't also impressive from a longevity perspective.

Bob Hart (USBC Hall of Famer/reaching 65 years of OC participation in 2020): Participation
Why: Not every bowler will have the level of performance to reach 100,000 pins, though reaching 100,000 pins requires many years of participation. Years of participation requires desire, continued dedication and love of the game itself. The many factors that play into traveling to all the different venues (many years a different city) is a real challenge. A lifetime commitment. That dedication was the main factor in my decision.

Doug Shellum (Open Championships and Minnesota bowling historian, 31-time OC participant): Pinfall
Why: This is a toss-up. BOTH are phenomenal records! Especially the three that have 71 years - trekking across the country in planes, trains and automobiles.

I have personally congratulated the guys that have achieved 50 or 65 as a milestone, but 71, wow. When I congratulated Syl Thiel on tying the record, he was all excited for another trip to the OC.

Now, knocking down those pins consistently, year after year to get to just the 100,000-pin plateau is what is tops to me. Then, you still have 24,087 MORE pins to knock down in just games a year to get to the top of the list!

The National Bowling Stadium vs. The first Open Championships venue (1901)

Did you know the Open Championships has been held 116 times since the inaugural edition in 1901, but it never has been held in a traditional bowling center?

A vote actually rejected the use of a bowling center for the first OC (1901), and the precedent of building lanes each year was set. Six lanes were built on the second floor of the Welsbach Building in Chicago.

Each year forward, crews transformed convention spaces, armories or coliseums into the state-of-the-art and one-of-a-kind bowling facility to give tournament bowlers the ultimate championship experience. The vast venues, high ceilings, bright lights and ginormous scoreboards helped create the biggest stages our sport has ever seen.

In the mid-1990s, the semi-permanent concept became a permanent fixture in downtown Reno, Nevada, where the creation of the National Bowling Stadium added a new layer to the tournament's storied history.

Not only would the 78-lane venue not be torn down after the completion of the OC, the facility also became a regular stop on the event's travel itinerary, playing host 10 times from 1995-2016.

So, which was more significant in OC history - the precedent to provide the most grandeur stage each year, or the Taj Mahal of Tenpins, which became a home away from home for USBC and the OC?


Matt Cannizzaro:
1901 vote
Why: This major decision and innovation made the Open Championships the grand event it is more than a century later by putting it on a stage that can't be experienced anywhere else in bowling.

The idea of a custom venue, as opposed to a traditional bowling center, allowed the event to grow into the national championship it is, in every aspect. I am 100 percent certain it is the venue that makes the experience what it is, and that group of gentlemen set the precedent.

Daniel Farish: 1901 vote
Why: This one is a slam dunk for me, and that's out of no disrespect to the NBS. The decision in 1901 to hold the Open Championships in a custom-built, one-of-a-kind facility, paved the way for venues like the NBS, or the South Point Bowling Plaza, to become a reality.


Duane Hagen:
1901 vote
Why: To provide "the most grandeur stage each year" gets my vote (though I would include the NBS in that).

I think there is something special and unique about "the builds," even if the may not be as "grandeur" as the "stadium venues."

Fran Piraino: 1901 vote
Why: Creating a venue for an event at the turn of the century - something that had never been done before - is monumental to me. What an undertaking that must have been! And, it was the start of an annual tournament that over the years allowed bowlers to compete in unique venues, while seeing different parts of the country.

Bob Johnson: 1901 vote
Why: While the National Bowling Stadium changed the tournament forever, providing a frequent home base, it was the decision to put the event in arenas and similar venues all around the country that provided the true allure for so many people for so many years.

Bob Hart: 1901 vote
Why: The opening of the National Bowling Stadium in 1995 was a good decision due to travel by air, diverse activities and lane condition techniques, such as automatic lane machines. 

My choice was due to lanes being used in a single location (if the tournament found a home center and didn't move) would have limited bowlers from all parts of the country due to traffic conditions during those times. The site of the OC moving around the country offered opportunity to more participants.  

Doug Shellum: 1901 vote
Why: I personally feel the first Open Championships venue set the precedent to provide the most grandeur stage each year.

Looking at some of the work that went into the coliseums and armories year after year in the 1940s and 1950s was impressive for the host cities to showcase their cities.

Just think, the Open Championships is billed as "older than baseball's World Series or football's Rose Bowl," both of which are true!

The lanes were installed in public buildings and gave it an aura of the big-time show business other sports would follow. Add that to the fact that no one, absolutely no one, had bowled on the specially built lanes.

Match 3
A tale of two traditions: The introduction of Center Aisle (1954) vs. Joe Bowler (1951)

The Open Championships is the epitome of tradition, but a perfect combination of foundation and evolution at the same time.

In more than a century of competition, the format of the event has been relatively unchanged, but many small traditions have been added to the landscape to make the experience even more memorable.

In 1951, one of the most significant years of growth and change at the OC, the tradition of Joe Bowler was introduced.

Each year, one bowler from the tournament's opening squad has been randomly selected to fill the role of Joe Bowler. The honoree is dressed in the traditional crown and cape, presides over the opening ceremony and throws out the event's official first ball.

In Seattle in 1954, the Open Championships venue included a Center Aisle for the first time, adding to the grandeur of the event. The feature allows participants to parade through a curtain at the end of the lanes and straight down a walkway in the middle of the facility, giving family, friends and fans a chance to welcome the participants onto the lanes.

Center Aisle has been a site for butterflies, ceremonies, presentations - even marriage proposals and weddings!


Matt Cannizzaro:
Center Aisle
Why: While I enjoy the entertainment value of Joe Bowler presiding over the opening ceremony each year, there's absolutely nothing like standing at the end of Center Aisle and looking out at the venue, even when it's empty and quiet.

When it's time to march to the lanes and the music begins thumping, the butterflies and goosebumps instantly appear. Emerging from the curtain to see the high ceilings, bright lights and energetic crowd makes those first few frames each year very difficult.

Daniel Farish: Center Aisle
Why: Two factors play a part in this for me. First off, I have never witnessed the Joe Bowler moment during opening ceremonies. I joined the OC party late in 2019, almost a month after the tournament kicked off. Yet each year I've bowled the OC, I've gotten to walk down Center Aisle and see the awe-inspiring view of the venue sprawled out in front of me.

Secondly, while everyone gets to enjoy the feeling of walking down Center Aisle and having all eyes on them, only one bowler each year gets to partake in the Joe Bowler experience.


Duane Hagen: Joe Bowler
Why: While walking down center aisle in Niagara Falls (New York) for my first Open Championships in 1983 is my biggest "goose-bump memory" (as does) every march out...

I have to go with Joe Bowler. This is a tradition that exemplifies the fact the Open Championships is for Joe or Josephine Bowler - open and providing a world-class experience for all USBC adult members.

Fran Piraino: Center Aisle
Why: I'm all about tradition, and this is one of the OC's best. For many bowlers, the walk down Center Aisle is their "moment" at the tournament. Not to mention the parade of teams and bowlers set to music is a sight to behold.

Bob Johnson: Center Aisle
Why: For years, the walks down Center Aisle on Hall of Fame Night provided some of the most spine-tingling, emotional moments in the history of the tournament. Many players lament the loss of that tradition - but its legacy remains an important aspect of the tournament's history.

Bob Hart: Center Aisle
Why: The introduction of Center Aisle was warmly received by all bowlers and added professionalism to the OC. It also made available the perfect avenue for honoring all individuals. It's still a significant part of the OC venue.  

The Joe bowler tradition was added in 1951 and has provided a showroom performance for opening ceremonies. It is a fun, enjoyable even, and has become a tradition.

My choice was difficult, and as I lingered over the comparison, I felt Center Aisle is convenient way to honor and introduce every bowler in the tournament each year as they share the moment with their teammates.  

Doug Shellum: Center Aisle
Why: I have been there on the opening weekend of the OC and participated in the festivities of "Joe Bowler:"

Not everyone during the run of the tournament gets to experience this. Nothing compares to the parade to the lanes! The laying down of the red carpet down the Center Aisle and filing out on the lanes to the organist playing lively march music was sure to give everyone butterflies, and it did not matter if you were from a small or large town, everyone stood tall.

Match 4
Automatic pinsetters (1957) vs. Automatic scoring (1979)

The Open Championships long has been a showcase for the best and newest aspects of bowling, from furniture to lanes, oil and lane machines.

In Fort Worth, Texas, in 1957, automatic pinsetters made their debut at the OC, almost a half-century into its growing history.

Amazingly, it was another two decades before automatic scoring was added to the venue and experience, which came in the form of the iconic custom flip-dot scoreboards.

Certainly, automation at the end of the lane provided a much safer environment and quicker pace.

Above the lanes, the traditional "board men" were such a talked about feature of the world's largest participatory sporting event and a true display of teamwork to quickly relay the info and get it posted, while the new technology added even more glitz and glamour to the tournament.

But, which changed the event more?


Matt Cannizzaro: Automatic scoring
Why: Yes, automatic pinsetters changed the game, but in a way you really can't see. I'm grateful for its existence, especially from a speed, accuracy and safety perspective.

But, as far as direction-changing additions to the event, I think the introduction of automatic scoring ultimately had a bigger impact on the look and feel of the event.

The boards and boardmen offered a certain nostalgia and tradition that kind of perfectly illustrated the sport.

I'm not saying the new look and direction were or have been bad for the event, but it provided a very defined and visible closing of one chapter in tournament history.

Daniel Farish: Automatic pinsetters
Why: The introduction of automatic pinsetters and automatic scoring were both revolutionary and much-needed upgrades for the sport of bowling. Having been born in 1986, I've never experienced humans resetting pins and only ever bowled in a few houses with grease pencils and projectors.

I asked myself, "Which of these two improved the OC more?"

I can imagine walking into the OC with the tall scoreboards and seeing "boardmen" hanging numbers frame-by-frame. I can't, however, imagine bowling the OC without automatic pinsetters. That's why I choose those as the invention that changed the event the most.


Duane Hagen:
Automatic pinsetter
Why: The pinsetter changed the event (and sport more).

While automatic scoring may have resulted in a variety of different and longstanding impacts, without automatic scoring, it is questionable if bowling would have survived.

Fran Piraino: Automatic pinsetters
Why: There's no doubt the automatic scoring transformed the visual appeal of the tournament. But the introduction of automatic pinsetters is more significant in my book. It's a feature that is easily taken for granted today.

Bob Johnson: Automatic scoring
Why: The introduction of automatic pinsetting machines transformed the entire bowling industry, including the tournament. But one thing the tournament had that bowling centers did not were giant scoreboards "staffed" by human scorekeepers. It was like going to a game at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field before the scoreboards became automated, and when they went away, so did a unique aspect of the tournament.

Bob Hart:
Automatic pinsetters
Why: Automatic scoring in 1979 was a great improvement due to the accuracy and to the overall cosmetic look it added to the venue. My friend Hal Kaminski and I remembered the installation well. LOL.

While the automatic scoring system replaced the individual score keepers, it should not go unnoticed what a wonderful job the individual did and all the relationships that were built. Some kept score for many years and will also be remembered by we who participated before 1979. 

Very easy decision, though. Automatic pinsetters were the number one improvement to the game of bowling at that time.

Doug Shellum:
Automatic pinsetters
Why: This is a tough one! 

While the huge computerized scoreboard completely replaced the boardmen, the electronic boards with multi-functional capacity, brought new excitement to my annual visit, and it did not detract from the glamor of the event.

It was really cool watching the teamwork of the boardmen keeping track of the scores. The huge scoreboards over the lanes kept, and still keep, the bowlers and spectators informed at all times on a team or individual was bowling well.

But, I don't think it compares to the impact of the automatic pinsetter. I was not yet bowling in 1957, so I was not there to witness the changes in person. Yes, the "automatics" replaced the pin boys, which I'm sure provided more consistency in setting the pins, and it was a lot safer, too. I think the debut of the pinsetters wins over the automatic scoring and changed the event more.

For more information about the Open Championships or to register for 2020 (Sept. 12-Nov. 22) or 2021 (March 6-July 18), click HERE.