Five earn induction to inaugural USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame class

ARLINGTON, Texas – The inaugural class for the United States Bowling Congress Collegiate Hall of Fame has been determined, with five inductees helping usher in a historic celebration of the sport in April 2024.

Jack Connaughton of Lafayette, Indiana; Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey; and Rick Steelsmith of Wichita, Kansas, have earned induction for their on-lane performances as Student-Athletes. Gordon Vadakin of Wichita, Kansas, will join the inaugural class in the Coach category. Karl Nickolai of Canton, Michigan, completes the 2024 class for his dedication to collegiate bowling as a Contributor.

The ceremony for the 2024 USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame will take place April 17 during the banquet for the Intercollegiate Team Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

Connaughton, 78, was a standout at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (previously Wisconsin State University-La Crosse) from 1964-1968 and dominated competition across the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) ranks.

In ACUI competition, Connaughton swept the top spots at the 1967 national finals, winning singles, doubles and all-events. He returned in 1968 to successfully defend his titles in singles and all-events, while finishing fourth in doubles.

During the same two-year span at the NAIA Championship, Connaughton helped Wisconsin-La Crosse win back-to-back team titles, claimed a pair of wins in doubles competition and recorded a first-place finish in singles at the 1968 event. He finished as the runner-up in singles in 1967.

In 1966, he led Wisconsin-La Crosse to the National Intercollegiate Bowling Association (NIBA) team title.

Connaughton, originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin, traveled to Paris, France, in 1967 as the first collegiate representative of the United States at the famed World Cup, where he captured the victory.

He has received numerous awards and honors and is a member of the NAIA, Kansas State USBC and Wisconsin State USBC Halls of Fame.

Kulick, 46, was a collegiate star at Morehead State University from 1995-1999 before ascending as one of the biggest names in the sport through her triumphs on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) and Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tours and as a member of Team USA.

After earning a spot as a second-team All-American from the National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association (NCBCA) her freshman season, Kulick rattled off three consecutive first-team selections. She was named the NCBCA Most Valuable Player in each of those seasons (1996-1997, 1997-1998 and 1998-1999).

Kulick also was the recipient of the International Bowling Media Association (IBMA) Collegiate Bowler of the Year award in 1997 and 1998.

Fans from across the globe have watched Kulick deliver clutch strikes to claim seven PWBA Tour titles (including five major championships) and more than 20 gold medals as a member of Team USA and Junior Team USA. In 2010, she garnered global praise as she became the first woman to win a national title on the PBA Tour with her major victory at the PBA Tournament of Champions.

She set the stage for those moments in 1998 at the Intercollegiate Team Championships in Madison, Wisconsin. In the two-game total-pinfall championship against Central Missouri State, Kulick stepped up in a must-strike situation for the Eagles and rolled two strikes to secure the program’s second national title.

Kulick was inducted to the USBC Hall of Fame in 2019 for Superior Performance.

Steelsmith, 59, became the first four-time NCBCA first-team All-American in the men's division during his tenure at Vincennes University and Wichita State University from 1983-1987.

During his two-year stint at Vincennes, Steelsmith helped the Trailblazers win the 1985 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) team championship. He also claimed the national singles title for NJCAA in 1985.

Making his move to Wichita State for his junior and senior campaigns, Steelsmith continued to showcase his talent at the top level. He helped the Shockers to a third-place finish at the Intercollegiate Team Championships in 1986, earning the honor of Most Valuable Player for the all-tournament team.

Steelsmith put together his finest showing in 1987. He was named the NCBCA Most Valuable Player and IBMA Collegiate Bowler of the Year, again earned MVP honors at the Intercollegiate Team Championships and helped the Shockers record the team victory at the ITC.

Shortly after concluding his collegiate season, he went on to win the USBC Masters as an amateur and claimed two gold medals (trios, all-events), one silver medal (Masters) and two bronze medals (singles, doubles) for Team USA at the International Bowling Federation World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

At the start of the 2019-2020 season, Steelsmith took over as the men’s head bowling coach at Wichita State and has helped the Shockers win the 2021 and 2023 Intercollegiate Team Championships.

Steelsmith, the 1988 PBA Rookie of the Year and two-time PBA Tour champion, is a member of the NJCAA, Kansas State USBC and USBC (2013) Halls of Fame.

Vadakin, 70, was at the helm of the Wichita State University men’s and women’s bowling programs from 1978-2019 and helped the Shockers claim 18 national titles between both teams.

The men’s program collected 11 Intercollegiate Team Championships titles during Vadakin’s tenure (1980, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2015), and the men’s team is the only program to record three consecutive wins at the ITC, having accomplished the feat two times (1993-1995 and 2008-2010).

The women’s team earned seven wins at the ITC under Vadakin’s watch, claiming victory in 1978, 1986, 1990, 1994, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

In all, the men’s program qualified for the ITC in 37 of Vadakin’s 42 years leading the program, while the women’s team earned their spot in 41 of 42 attempts, advancing each year since 1982.

Along with the team success, Vadakin also coached nine individual national champions (six at the Intercollegiate Singles Championships). He had 12 student-athletes claim a combined 24 NCBCA Most Valuable Player and IBMA Collegiate Bowler of the Year awards and coached 145 NCBCA All-Americans and nearly 250 academic All-Americans. At the professional ranks, Vadakin coached 17 athletes who went on to win PBA or PWBA Tour events.

In 2020, the NCBCA renamed its award to recognize the top coach in the men’s division as the NCBCA Gordon Vadakin Coach of the Year Award.

Vadakin, a two-time Team USA member and two-time Eagle winner at the USBC Open Championships, is a Kansas State USBC and USBC (2007) Hall of Famer.

Nickolai, 62, started his involvement in collegiate bowling first as a student-athlete at Michigan State University before taking over as the head coach of the men’s program. He held the coaching spot with the Spartans for 35 years, and in 2001, became the first recipient of the NCBCA Kerm Helmer (now Gordon Vadakin) Coach of the Year Award.

He left a lasting mark in how the sport was consumed with the launching of in 1997. The website served as a place to view tournament results across the collegiate landscape, and it expanded over time to include rankings, statistics and player profiles. Nickolai maintained the website until 2020, when the site became part of USBC’s

Nickolai was responsible for several additional items used to help rank collegiate teams and student-athletes versus the field.

In 1998, he teamed with Joe Ciccone to develop the Team Ranking System (TRS), which is an objective point-based system for ranking schools on performance in regular-season tournaments and used today to help determine sectional assignments for the four qualifying events for the Intercollegiate Team Championships.

He also introduced average differential to the collegiate bowling scene, which measures the average for a student-athlete during an event and over the season against the field of competition.

Nickolai also has given his time to the NCBCA and has been a member since 1984. He has served two separate stints as the organization’s president (1992-1994 and 1998-2020) and was selected as the NCBCA Gordon Teigen Meritorious Service Award winner in 1999.

He also was recognized for his service in 2010 as the USBC Youth Volunteer of the Year and was presented the IBMA Alberta E. Crowe Meritorious Service Award in 2019.

The formation of the USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame was announced in November 2022, and nominations for the inaugural class were accepted through Jan. 5, 2024.

The USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame Committee reviewed the applications to determine the members of the 2024 class. The committee is comprised of 13 individuals, featuring representatives appointed by the USBC Collegiate Advisory Committee, USBC Hall of Fame members and veteran bowling writers. The committee only considered collegiate achievements when reviewing applications.