East meets west at Women's Championships

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Until this year, the annual retreat of female military bowling teams from Oak Harbor, Wash., to the USBC Women's Championships was known as East Meets West 1-3.

All members of the group look forward to the annual event, whether there are three teams or six, since they often are working around deployments, medical or economic problems and job transfers.

Starting in 2012, however, they officially will be known as The Rowdy Rollers. That's because they are so happy and excited to see one another that they usually are told to quiet down.

"That's OK, though," said Sue Sapp, a 44-year-old right-hander and the group's organizer. "We have a solution. We've developed the totally silent cheer, soundless high-fives and quiet cheerleader kicks. In fact, we are so quiet that we get comments about that now. We look and sound like a mime squad. It's hilarious, and that makes us laugh even harder."

Sapp has been organizing the teams of military members since 2006, and they are supplemented by military wives, retired vets and base contractors, like her. Their home center is the Convergence Zone, located on their base at NAS Whidbey Island.

"If we bowl well, that's just a bonus," Sapp said. "Mostly, we come to be together."

This year, one team member flew all the way home to take part in the state tournament. Then, Gala Russell, the Virginia state women's champion, traveled to meet up with the group in Syracuse. She also joined Sapp's 80-year-old mother, JoAnn Sapp, who was influenced by her daughter to take up the sport in her golden years.

Even if members move with their husbands across the country, they make sure they return to the tournament each year. Unless, of course, some bowlers are shipped out on active duty, and that happens, too.

"I call those like me 'mere mortals' because we are civilians," Sapp said. "But we feel like we all belong together and have even picked up a few subs over the years, and they also travel to be with us. We are an eclectic bunch."

Sapp works for Delex Systems, Inc., at NAS Whidbey Island near Puget Sound, which trains Navy pilots.

 "Bowling is a staple on many military bases, and it's a great mechanism to encourage staying together," Sapp said. "We have grown over the years, and there are no dividing lines among us. We even celebrate our yearly reunion with a kick-off dinner and invite our lanemates to attend, too."

The group is making plans for six teams in Reno, Nev., in 2012. It often ends up with last-minute changes, due to the military, so because Sapp and her teammates appreciate USBC personnel for helping organize squad times, she traditionally provides them with a bouquet of flowers each year.

"USBC people are our unsung heroes for all they do," Sapp said. "Sometimes, this group is more like herding cats to get us ready to bowl, so look for us coming to an alley near you!"

Sponsors for the 2011 USBC Women's Championships include Turning Stone Resort and Casino, official brackets sponsor, Humana, official registration sponsor, Miller Lite and Molson Canadian, official beer sponsors. Supporting sponsors include Storm Bowling Products, Nationwide Insurance, The Oncenter, Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau, Caz Limo & Tours, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, US Steltronic, official scoring system, and Brunswick, official lane provider.