Illinois bowler latest to join 50-Year Club during 2021 USBC Open Championships Article Image
LAS VEGAS - Chicago's James Hamen said bowling was the only sport he ever was good at, and it turned into a lifelong passion for him.

The 81-year-old right-hander bowled in his first league when he was 16 years old, and the only season he has missed since was during his first year in the U.S. Air Force, when he wasn't in the same place long enough to commit to a league.

In 1971, Hamen elevated his competitive status by entering the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships for the first time, a journey that began in Detroit and has taken him to dozens of cities across the country.

The event later became an annual opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with his sons, Daniel and Matthew, and their visit to the South Point Bowling Plaza on Thursday doubled as a reunion and a celebration.HamenFamily2021OCForWeb300x169

Daniel lives relatively close to Hamen, but Matthew lives nearly three hours away, just outside Madison, Wisconsin. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cancellation of the 2020 Open Championships, their time together during the past year has been very limited.

Prior to their team squad in the 60-lane venue Thursday, Hamen was recognized for his dedication to the sport and event, with the 2021 tournament marking his 50th consecutive appearance on the championship lanes. He received a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate the occasion.

"I was disappointed not being able to do it last year, but it's a wonderful feeling," Hamen said. "It's about the third best thing in my bowling career after being elected to the (Chicagoland USBC) Hall of Fame and Illinois State USBC Hall of Fame. This is wonderful and something I've looked forward to ever since I reached 25. And, it's always really nice I get to spend three or four days with my two sons."

Matthew, 44, and Daniel, 42, are on the verge of milestones of their own, as both will be recognized in 2022 for 20 years of participation. Their Open Championships careers began simultaneously at the 2002 tournament in Billings, Montana, and they have competed every year since.

"They've gotten into bowling and the tournament, and they're both better at bowling than I ever was," Hamen said. "It's the only sport I ever was any good at. I couldn't hit or throw a baseball, and I honestly wasn't interested in any other sports anyway. Bowling got my attention, and it's one of the things you can keep on doing as long as you can walk up there."

Hamen is a longtime friend of another Open Championships journeyman, Frank Clay of Crystal Lake, Illinois, who recently made his 66th appearance on the tournament lanes. Hamen said if Clay can keep pushing and participating, that would serve as motivation for him to reach 50 years.

The two now are one step closer to catching the event's all-time participation leaders - USBC Hall of Famers Bill Doehrman and Joe Norris, along with Sylvester Thiel - who each participated in the Open Championships 71 times.

The active participation leader is USBC and Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Famer Glenn Allison of Corona, California, who will compete for the 69th time later this week.

Hamen's wife, Carolyn, also was on-hand Thursday at the Bowling Plaza. Their relationship began in a bowling center many years ago when she subbed in his league and they met for the first time.

"She actually beat me that night, and I thought she was a really good bowler," Hamen said. "I think that was the highest series she ever bowled in her life, which is a funny coincidence, too. Bowling has been very good to me."

On the tournament lanes this week, Hamen rolled sets of 432 in singles, 414 in team and 408 in doubles for a 1,254 all-events total. In 50 Open Championships appearances, he has knocked down 76,529 pins for a career average of 170.

Matthew was high in the family this week with a 1,559 all-events total, and Daniel had 1,349.

In all, 25 bowlers are scheduled to celebrate 50 years of participation this year at South Point. To see the complete list in the 2021 OC program, click here.

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