USBC, ABC, WIBC and Team USA Bowling

The initiative to create one organization to govern the sport of bowling started in January 2000 through a joint effort of the American Bowling Congress, Women's International Bowling Congress, Young American Bowling Alliance and USA Bowling.

ABC, founded in 1895, was a predominantly male organization of nearly 1.6 million members. WIBC, founded in 1916, was exclusively a women's organization with nearly 1.2 million members. YABA, founded in 1982, served bowlers younger than age 22 and had nearly 400,000 members. USA Bowling started in 1989 with the purpose of having a single organization represent the sport as the national governing body and support the national team. Merging the four organizations together would create one organization to serve more than three million bowlers nationwide.

While all of the organizations had great histories, they provided many of the same programs and services to their constituents. Today's business climate demands that such duplication of efforts be eliminated. Following that logic, leadership determined that consolidating organizations with virtually identical programs and services while expanding services to bowlers made good sense, assuring the continuity of valued programs and services for adults and youth.

Benefits of the merger:

   • It would provide consistent service to men, women and youth bowlers by eliminating the current duplication in the membership organizations.
   • It would be a better way of doing business; it would cost far less to do business together than separately.
   • It would provide one-stop shopping for league secretaries, members and proprietors.
   • Associations would spend less time in meetings and performing administrative duties providing more time to be with the bowlers.
   • Nearly 75 percent of adult bowlers told us they wanted to be together by competing in mixed leagues.
   • It would take advantage of the growth of family activities.
   • It would provide for unified marketing opportunities.

The first step was to form the Single Membership Organization Task Force to research the concept. Later, experts in non-profit mergers and consolidations were consulted. After initial reports by the Task Force in 2001, two ad hoc committees, which included local/state association leaders, were appointed by the organizations to further develop the plan.

After listening to feedback from thousands of members, convention delegates, association officials, national board members and others, the committees presented its status report in spring 2002. Further modifications led to a proposal presented to the respective merging organizations boards of directors who approved the plan in November 2002.

Because the backbone of ABC and WIBC was their grassroots structure, one more step was required before the merger could move forward. While governed nationally from its offices in Greendale, Wis., ABC and WIBC had traditionally relied on a network of about 50,000 volunteers at approximately 4,000 state and local associations. Another 2,000 state and local associations and about 5,000 volunteers aided YABA, whose ultimate authority was vested in its national board of directors.

About 4,000 of the ABC and WIBC volunteers, elected to represent their constituents back home, voted on rules, dues and bylaws by which organizations operate at annual conventions. As the ultimate voting authority for ABC and WIBC, any merger proposal had to be approved by a two-thirds majority of each voting body.

The original plan of merger was approved by 50 percent of the ABC delegates and 60 percent of WIBC delegates. That show of support prompted organizational leaders to form an industry task force to revise the plan for another vote in 2004. In May 2004, 76 percent of ABC and 71 percent of WIBC delegates approved the merger. The YABA and USA Bowling boards of directors also approved the merger.

The ensuing months were spent putting the new organizations infrastructure together. The USBC Board of Directors held its first meeting in late June, the same month the organization applied to the United States Olympic Committee to become the sports national governing body. Roger Dalkin, the organization's first CEO, was selected in October 2004 after which he began to put together his operational staff.

On Jan. 1, 2005, the official launch of USBC signaled a new era in organized bowling. One of USBCs major goals is to become the central brand for bowling in the United States. It plans to do this by positioning the organization to grow the sport, encouraging more people to participate and increasing the power of the brand.

USBC stands for values that include: credibility, dedication, excellence, heritage, inclusiveness, integrity, philanthropy and sportsmanship.

ABC's roots can be traced to many people. One was Thomas Curtis, who became ABC's first president and chaired several historic meetings that produced an organization that succeeded where others had failed.

The adoption of rules at the Sept. 9, 1895 meeting in New York's Beethoven Hall, and most important, the distribution of nearly 1,000 copies by mail to bowling groups in many parts of the United States, was the move which created interest and trust in the fledgling group. Within a few months, there were members in Buffalo, N.Y., Cincinnati, Lowell, Mass., Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Wheeling, W. Va., Kansas City and Quebec.

After that, representatives of local, state and provincial associations like these have annually met in convention to review rules and consider proposed changes. Also elected were officers and directors, all of whom serve voluntarily and without pay. The only exceptions were the executive director and assistant director, who oversaw the home office staff.

Service was ABC's aim since its early days. Service began when a league formed and applied for sanction. The sanction, with membership cards distributed to each bowler, gives ABC a record of its membership and entitled the league and its members to the following services:
   • Automatic bonding to protect bowler funds from theft, burglary and misuse.
   • Awards for every level of achievement from 300 games to 700 and 800 series to league champions, most improved league bowlers and those who bowl a game of 100 and a series of 150 or more pins above or more pins above average.
   • Essential tools for league officers including rulebooks, schedules, handicap charts, average calculators and other aids.
   • Rules advice and counseling.
   • Free tournament sanctioning.
   • Equally important in maintaining standard bowling conditions are the programs of lane certification and equipment testing and research. Every lane is checked and measured each season to assure it meets ABC/Womens International Bowling Congress specifications. Pins, automatic pinsetting machines, scoring devices and other allied equipment undergo thorough and lengthy testing before receiving approval for use in ABC sanctioned league or tournament competition.
   • Publicizing the inner workings of the Congress, as well as the feats of bowlers coast to coast, is the role of the Public Relations department. Bowlers were as well informed as any sports group in the world through ABC's membership publication, American Bowler and through news releases, pamphlets, brochures and other publications.

Although the service programs have been thorough, new groups created special attention. In 1963, ABC added a Seniors program and designed a complete set of services for the nation's senior citizens. The ABC National Seniors Tournament for men 55 and older was initiated in 1964 and expanded to reach every state in 1982.

In 1966, a Collegiate Division was initiated by the Congress to provide a program for the nation's college men while at the same time bridging the service gap between junior and adult competition.

With the formation of the Young American Bowling Alliance in 1982, the Collegiate Division became a part of that organization. It was returned to the ABC/WIBC in 1998 and renamed College Bowling USA.

The most spectacular of ABC's many services was the national championship tournament, the oldest bowling event in the nation. A fixture on the sports scene since 1901, it is unrivaled as a participant spectacle. Held in America's major cities, the ABC Tournament runs 12 to 16 hours daily for more than 100 consecutive days.

On lanes specially-installed in public arenas, as many as 17,000 teams and 92,000 individuals participate each year. The prize fund exceeds $4 million.

ABCs glamour event was the Masters, which matched the world's greatest bowlers in head-to-head double elimination competition following qualifying round play. Each match consists of three games throughout the competition unless the finals are televised. In that event, a stepladder format takes precedent.

ABC started a new tournament in 1992 aimed at bringing the sport back to its team roots. The World Team Challenge features a nationwide qualifying tour leading to a Grand Championship.
In conjunction with WIBC, ABC launched the Festival of Bowling in 1999. It provides a wide variety of formats for bowlers to enter as often as they like. It later became the National Mixed Championships.

Whether through leagues or tournaments, ABC provided its members options, all with the aim of having fun.

There are many colorful stories about when women began bowling in the United States. Seniors reminisce about the turn of the century, when their mothers or grandmothers sneaked in with (or without) their husbands to try out the bowling game. Often they did so at the risk of their reputations.

Tales are told about women bowlers being screened off from view behind partitions or drapes or being allowed to bowl only when men were not using the alleys. Those were the days of high button shoes, skirts to the ankles, cumbersome apparel and tenpin accommodations that were hardly appealing.

Old photos document scenes of women bowling as early as the 1880s. The first recorded formalized bowling for women began in 1907 in St. Louis, when Dennis J. Sweeney, a bowling proprietor and sports writer, organized a women's league.

Inklings of national interest also were being shown. That same year (1907) many women accompanied their husbands to the American Bowling Congress Tournament in St. Louis, as they had been doing for several years. In St. Louis the women laid plans to hold their own tournament, the following year, on ABC Tournament lanes in Cincinnati after the annual men's event had concluded. A second women's tournament in 1909 followed the ABC event in Pittsburgh.

Records show little activity until 1915, when Ellen Kelly, an avid bowler, formed the St. Louis Women's Bowling Association. Buoyed by her success, she wrote to proprietors across the country asking for names of women who might be interested in a national organization of their own. She followed with letters to those women, urging the organization of local associations and offering advice on rules and establishing an organization.

By the Fall of 1916 in St. Louis, Sweeney was there to help Mrs. Kelly stage the first "national tournament." There were eight teams entered and champions were decided in team, doubles, singles and all events. The prize fund was $225.

Following the tournament those 40 women from 11 cities met at Sweeney's Washington Recreation Parlor and created the national organization that became after several name changes - the Women's International Bowling Congress. Fifty years later a charter member described the initial tournament as "frankly plain, there were eight alleys and four rows of benches for visitors a small counter square in back of the benches was used to sell soda pop, popcorn, peanuts, etc." She also recalled that the "meeting was more of a social gathering, and we gave little thought that it would develop into such a big organization."

The 40 pioneers elected their first national officers and adopted a constitution and bylaws that included the following purposes: To provide, adopt and enforce uniform rules and regulations governing the play of American tenpins; to provide and enforce uniform qualifications for tournaments and their participants; to hold a national tournament, and to encourage good feeling and create interest in the bowling game.

Those original precepts became the foundation of WIBC, which has developed into the largest sports organization in the world for women. The 40 pioneers set the pattern for today's 1.2 million WIBC members, who bowl in more than 60,000 sanctioned leagues in approximately 2,700 local associations in every state and several foreign countries.

That humble national tournament -- with its eight-team entry -- was the forerunner of what is now the largest women's sports event in the world. In tact, the 1997 WIBC Championship tournament held in Reno, Nev. attracted 14,872 five-woman teams, the largest entry for any team tournament in history. There were 88,279 individuals, a womens world record.

That first tentative gathering on the benches in Washington Recreation Parlor has evolved into a model of bowling democracy, the WIBC annual meeting. More than 3,000 delegates representing local and state associations attended the WIBC annual meeting to adopt rules and select national leaders. Similar annual meetings at local, state and provincial levels assure the self-government concept. Nationally, WIBC was governed by a board of directors elected by the delegates. Administrative policies and procedures were implemented by a staff at WIBC headquarters in suburban Milwaukee.

Along with growth and development came a multiplicity of services. Leagues received a wealth of rule books, record keeping materials and prepackaged kits to keep them functioning smoothly. Local, state and provincial associations benefited from a variety of materials to help them conduct their affairs more efficiently, ranging from handbooks, information sheets and forms to educational seminars, workshops and counseling from staff members and field representatives. A bonding and insurance program provided by WIBC covered association and league funds. A tournament sanctioning program was another important service.

A description of WIBC's awards for members would fill a chapter in itself. They recognized achievements within the realm of every bowler, from the beginner to the world champion.

From its humble beginnings, WIBC stood for tradition, friendship, fun, competition, leadership and success. It has meant this and more to the millions of women who proudly called WIBC my organization.

Founded as the United States Tenpin Bowling Federation in the summer of 1989 by the American Bowling Congress and Women's International Bowling Congress, USA Bowling was the worldwide representative of the United States in international competition until the formation of USBC in 2005.

Governed by a 12-member board which included three athletes, USA Bowling was recognized as the sport's governing body in the United States by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs.

USA Bowling coordinated all amateur international competition promoted by USOC or FIQ, and conducted the National Amateur Bowling Championships. In addition, it was the leader in providing instruction and coaching programs to help bowlers improve.

Prior to USTBF's founding, ABC and WIBC jointly held Group C status with the USOC as bowling's governing body since the sport's acceptance by the USOC in 1986. The USTBF was eventually established to comply with the USOC Constitution and the Amateur Sports Act adopted by Congress in 1978. The USOC granted Group A membership to the USTBF in 1989.

The Team USA bowling program was initiated by ABC and WIBC in 1986 with the first National Amateur Championships. Dan Nadeau of Las Vegas and Cora Fiebig of Madison Heights, Mich., were the first men's and women's national amateur champions.

The United States has been represented in international competition since the 1930s when the late Dr. Joe Thum, a New York City proprietor later elected to the ABC Hall of Fame, organized teams to travel to Europe. Prior to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, a large delegation of male bowlers participated in a special event.

The FIQ was formed in 1951 with nine countries but now boasts more than 100 member nations. It first applied for International Olympic Committee recognition in 1963, but was continually refused until being officially recognized in 1979. Bowling was an official exhibition sport in the 1988 Games.

The U.S. did not become a FIQ member until 1961, making its official international debut in the 1963 FIQ World Championships in Mexico, dominating the competition. Since that time other nations have improved tremendously, increasing the competition for the Americans.