2020 OC Bracket Challenge - Tournament Firsts

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Especially in sports, the first time anything happens, it usually is special and unforgettable. Or is it?

As time passes, and the feat potentially is achieved more and more, the memory of the first time may fade. As historians, it is part of our job to make sure those moments aren't forgotten.

The long history of the USBC Open Championships is filled with noteworthy occurrences and performances. Even after more than a century of competition, bowlers still are finding ways to do things that haven't been done.

Whether it be a score achieved for the first time, a first-time host city, new scoreboards, the most lanes used, etc., it becomes a significant part of the tournament tale.

So far in the OC Bracket Challenge, we've enjoyed reminiscing about some record moments and major milestones.

Now, it's time to revisit some of the most significant tournament firsts!

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 Open Championships Facebook page each day to cast your votes for each match!

The First 300 vs. The First 800

Ahh, the age-old debate about what's harder to achieve or is more significant - 12 consecutive strikes and a 300 game or dominating the lanes while navigating the transition for three games on the way to an 800 series.

If it helps in the decision-making process here, there have been 886 perfect games rolled in Open Championships competition. There have been 135 sets of 800 or better. At the same time, though, there obviously have been three times as many games bowled on the tournament lanes, since most competitors bowl nine games each year, compared to three three-game sets.

Back to the task at hand - what was more significant in tournament history, the first 300 or the first 800?

William Knox rolled the first perfect game in tournament history in 1913, the 13th edition of the tournament. A decade later, he went on to win the all-events title for his lone Eagle. The next 300 in Open Championships competition wasn't rolled until 1926.

Decades later (1977), the OC saw its first 800 series, which was an 804 set courtesy of Milwaukee's Lou Veit during his team event.

Michigan's Mickey Higham posted an 801 series to win the Classic Singles title in 1977, and there wasn't another 800 at the OC until 1983.


Matt Cannizzaro (OC PR Manager since 2005):
First 300
Why: Something always has impressed and intrigued me about William Knox. Maybe it was the black-and-white era, the simplicity of the equipment, the complexity of the attire - I don't know.

What I do know is that the idea of perfection in 1913 feels so much more out of the ordinary than an 800 series in the much-more-evolved 1970s.

Neither occurrence ended up being the opening of any proverbial flood gates by any means, but the first big scoring boom at the OC didn't come too long after Veit made headlines, compared to the trickle of perfection following Knox's accomplishment.

Daniel Farish (OC PR Specialist since 2019): First 300
Why: I'm a glutton for bowling history, but my knowledge only goes back so far. Similar to what Matt said, the idea of someone shooting 300 over 100 years ago in an environment like the Open Championships seems unfathomable to me.

Very rarely would I pick a single-game performance over a three-game set...but in this case, I am. Technology was so far ahead, as you'd expect, in 1977 compared to 1913. My nod goes to Knox on this one.


Duane Hagen (OC Tournament Director since 2008):
First 800
Why: The 800 series wins, as it requires continued excellence over more frames/shifts.

Fran Piraino (longtime bowling writer and historian in Syracuse area): First 300
Why: My vote goes to the first perfect game. It was a completely different game in 1913 with a higher degree of difficulty, considering bowlers used one black ball on unconditioned wood lanes trying to knock over heavy maple pins. I have to wonder how some modern era bowlers would fare competing under those conditions.    

Bob Johnson (Bowlers Journal International): First 800
Why: Perfect games were extremely rare in 1913, but it's difficult to imagine any single perfect game trumping any single 800 series. The fact that the first 800 was rolled in the team event, with a slow pace of play, made it even more impressive.

Bob Hart (USBC Hall of Famer/reaching 65 years of OC participation in 2020): First 300
Why: Scores in 1913 were much lower than scores in 1977. William Knox's 300 game in the OC was not matched for 13 years. The first 800 in the OC tournament in 1977 by Lou Veit was matched the same year by Mickey Higham (801). Two 800s the same year.

Doug Shellum (Open Championships and Minnesota bowling historian, 31-time OC participant): First 800
Why: While 12 consecutive strikes is an amazing feat, I feel an 800 is more difficult, as it requires more consistency in shot making over 36 frames.

I was on an amazing team where we had two 300s in the same game! Dave Olynyk and Dave Theis each etched their names in the record books in 1997 in Huntsville, Alabama.

Again the 300s were not easy on the OC lanes, but 800s are more difficult across the board.

Ladies night: The first 300 by a woman vs. The first 800 by a woman

In keeping with the 300/800 theme, let's celebrate a couple of the women who have found the spotlight at the USBC Open Championships.

Women first participated in the OC in 1994, but the first perfect game by a female didn't come until 2001. Kristine Kropf of Antioch, California, was the first to achieve the feat, which now has been accomplished 10 times. The last came in 2014.

The first woman to reach the 800 plateau was former Junior Team USA member and collegiate standout Kristal Wilson, who tossed an 816 series during her team event at the 2006 tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas.

USBC and Professional Women's Bowling Association Hall of Famer Wendy Macpherson rolled an 812 series later in the 2006 event to become the first woman to win a Regular Division event (singles), and there has not been another 800 by a woman since.

So, again, which do you value more - 300 or 800?


Matt Cannizzaro:
Why: The era in which the women first reached these milestones at the OC certainly was different than the men who got there in 1913 and 1977, respectively, so that weighed heavily in my vote this time.

With the mix of gender, styles, equipment and transition, especially in the team event, Wilson's 816 series just had a special feel to it. That year also was a breakout for the women at the OC, featuring a 298, two 300s and both 800s in tournament history.

In looking at the range of equipment, surface on those balls, types of oil and skill levels on a given pair of lanes nowadays, I put a higher value on mastering the lanes over three games, compared to one.

Daniel Farish: 800
Why: Going back to my closing statement from the previous vote, I'm taking the 800 series on this one. These two scores were rolled withing five years of one another and without the massive technology gap of the 1913-1977 discussion from before.

The ability to hang with the transition over the course of a team event, knowing you're chasing history while doing it, is pressure enough. To do it in the OC atmosphere, with a crowd behind you, in a venue like the one provided in Corpus Christi, is enough to make any player falter, and Kristal didn't.


Duane Hagen:
Why: Again, the 800 series wins for me, specifically Wendy's 812 series later in the 2006 event to become the first woman to win a Regular Division event (singles), and there has not been another 800 by a woman since.

Fran Piraino: 800
Why: This is easy. The significance of a female bowling at a high level on the OC lanes and doing so over 36 frames trumps 12 straight strikes wins by a landslide.   

Bob Johnson: 800
Why: While it also was rolled in the team event, the first 800 by a woman was even more notable than the first 800 by a man because of the difference in eras. In 1977, many bowlers still were playing the "track," whereas in 2006, "transition" had been added to bowling's lexicon, making adjustments - and anticipating them - more critical.

Bob Hart:
Why: The first 300 was in 2001shot by Kristine Kropf. Ten 300s now have been bowled by women.

First 800 (816) was bowled by Kristal Wilson in 2006. There has been one more 800 shot since 2006 and that was by Wendy Macpherson (812).

An 800 three game series versus a 300 one game causes greater lane transition during the three games.

Doug Shellum:
Why: I value the 800s!

Match 3
Multiples: The first bowler with three 300s vs. The first bowler with three 800s

More 300s and 800s? Sure!

Few bowlers in Open Championships history have rolled multiple 300s on the championship lanes (32), and even fewer have surpassed the 800 mark more than once (three). But to achieve either feat three times? Wowza.

In 2012, Minnesota's Matt McNiel became the first bowler in OC history with three 800s (one of a handful of records), which came in three consecutive years. He had 806 in 2010, 822 in 2011 (with a 300) and 847 in 2012 (also with a 300).

A year later, Illinois' Craig Szplett claimed a new spot in the OC record book with his third perfect game on the sport's biggest stage. He previously rolled 300s at the OC in 1996 and 2005. David Cirigliano and Lee Vanderhoef later joined him in the elite club.

Now, let's hear it - did your jaw drop more reading about Craig Szplett's third 300 or Matt McNiel's third 800?


Matt Cannizzaro:
McNiel's 800s
Why: Having watched first-hand the run McNiel was on from 2010-2015, this choice was a no-brainer.

Certainly, handling the knee-knocking pressure of having the front 11 at the Open Championships once, twice, three times is super impressive, but the types of scores McNiel put together on the way to his three all-events titles was other-worldly.

Daniel Farish: McNiel
Why: Matt lit up the National Bowling Stadium in 2010 and 2011. The whole country knew "that was his house." Some speculated he wouldn't find that level of success outside of the "lefty-friendly" Stadium.

The very next year in Baton Rouge, not only does he produce yet another 800, it's the highest of the three (847) which hands him his second career Regular All-Events title. His 2,202 all-events total was the lowest in a seven year span (2009-2015), showing just how hard the lanes were that year. That proved all the detractors, haters and nay-sayers wrong.


Duane Hagen:
McNiel's 800s
Why: No explanation needed. Just unbelievable.

Fran Piraino: McNiel's 800s
Why: Take a bow Matt McNiel! I knew he was among the OC greats, and this seals the deal in my mind. I didn't realize he posted 800s in three straight tournaments. This is an incredible feat. 

Bob Johnson: Szplett's 300s
Why: By the second decade of the 21st century, ball technology could trump just about any lane pattern, and McNiel is a master technician when it comes to "matching up." It may seem unfair to penalize him for that talent, but Szplett's trio of 300s are notable because they were recorded in three different decades.

Bob Hart: McNiel
Why: Three 300s in three different years by Craig Szplett is without a double a tremendous feat. This accomplishment has been matched by two other bowlers. Three 800 series in consecutive years by Matt McNiel has only been done once. Matt also had two 300s along the way.

No brainer, Matt McNiel, No. 1.

Doug Shellum: McNiel's 800s
Why: I am amazed at Matt McNiel's third 800 series....Like Matt said, wowza!

And, they are solid 800s: 806, 822 and 847. What is more amazing is three consecutive years!!!!

That is a way to solidify your name in the records books. Thanks, Matt McNiel, for smashing the records and setting one for someone to chase.

Match 4
Participation vs. Pinfall: First to 50 years (Harry Steers) vs. First to 100,000 pins (Bill Doehrman)

We debated this previously. What's a more impressive feat at the USBC Open Championships, longevity or performance?

Harry Steers missed the 1901 and 1903 events, but he was as dedicated as they come over the next five decades. In 1955, he became the first bowler to celebrate 50 years of tournament participation. He went on to compete 57 times.

Doehrman, who went on to set the participation standard with 71 consecutive years of participation, started his own tournament career in 1908. In 1971, he became the first bowler to topple 100,000 pins at the OC. He finished his career in 1981 with a pinfall total of 109,566, which now ranks ninth overall.


Matt Cannizzaro:
100,000 pins
Why: While my answer here might be different if valuing these accomplishments in the modern era, what Doehrman was able to do in his time was amazing. His OC career began in 1908, and he toppled his 100,000th pin a full decade before completing his record 71 tournament appearances.

Daniel Farish: 100,000 pins
Why: The OC didn't see its first all-events score over 2,100 until 1959, and we didn't see the next one until 1973 (shoutout to Louisville native Ron Woolet for that one). Pins were hard to come by over the first 70+ years of the event. To be the first bowler to eclipse the 100,000 mark means you were knocking down more pins than most of your opponents.

While travel was undoubtedly tougher in the 00s, 10s, 20s, etc., the tournament pretty much stayed in the Midwest minus a few trips to New England (New York, Pennsylvania) or up north (Michigan, Wisconsin). It was still tough to get there...but my nod goes to performance in this one.


Duane Hagen:
100,000 pins
Why: The first 100,000 pinfall, especially in the era accomplished is the clear choice for me.

Fran Piraino: 100,000 pins
Why: For me, Doehrman's pinfall mark is the best of both worlds. He was the first bowler in history to surpass the 100K plateau thanks to skill, as well as longevity. This is one record I wish I could have seen in person. The buzz and anticipation as he neared the pinfall milestone must have been off the charts. 

Bob Johnson: 100,000 pins
Why: No disrespect to Steers. After all, bowling is known as a "lifetime sport," and he personified that assertion. But 100,000 pins in the Open Championships once was an unfathomable plateau to reach, and Doehrman got there with a combination of longevity and determination.

Bob Hart: Longevity
Why: I'm judging participation versus pinfall only. Meaning, I'm not judging either of the participants.

Harry Steers first to reach 50 years was based on participation only. Bill Doehrman, the first to reach 100,000 pins, required 61 years to do so. Longevity was necessary in BOTH cases.

No one can reach 100,000 pins without longevity.

Doug Shellum: 100,000 pins
Why: I have read articles on both these men over the years in the Bowling Magazine, tournament programs and tournament yearbooks, and they are truly both amazing records.

When Harry Steers competed for 57 years, he did it when you took a lot of time to bowl the tournament. Traveling around the country was not that easy from 1902 to 1955, and life expectancy was not what it is today. What a commitment!

But, toppling 100,000 pins is still more impressive.

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