Navajo bowlers return to defend title at WC

By  Wishelle Banks
USBC Communications

BidtahAtcitty2013LARGE RENO, Nev. - Despite not having the conveniences many bowlers may take for granted, like a nearby bowling center and pro shop, Minnie Bidtah and Connie Atcitty have been able to succeed on the lanes thanks to passion, dedication and a good set of tires.

The two are from Shiprock, N.M., the largest Navajo community on the Navajo Nation, and travel nearly 80 miles round trip for every league session at Bowlero Lanes in Farmington, N.M. They bowl for fun, hobby and fitness, and their love for the sport has led them to a combined 19 appearances at the United States Bowling Congress Women's Championships.

Traveling to the annual tournament also is a challenge and requires a four-hour trek to the airport in Albuquerque, N.M. Their efforts paid dividends in 2012 when they claimed the Sapphire Doubles title at the storied event. They recently returned to Reno to celebrate their win and put their title on the line at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

Prior to their team event at the USBC Women's Championships on May 30, Bidtah and Atcitty were introduced as champions for the first time and were presented with their custom sapphire-emblazoned trophies. The surprise moment in the spotlight allowed them to savor their success and remember the day they shined on the lanes at the National Bowling Stadium.

AtcittyBidtahTrophy2013LARGE"I wasn't expecting the trophy," said Bidtah, who sprinted to the front of the squad room to accept it when Women's Championships Tournament Manager Eric Pierson announced their names. "I was so surprised. First, we saw it in the window, and we said, 'there's our trophy.' Then, when we walked into the squad room, there it was again. After a while, we looked at it and saw our names on there. It's really something to get a trophy with big sapphires on it. It's like two eyes looking at you."

The partners were thrilled about their celebrity status in the squad room and on the lanes and about seeing their names on the event's wall of champions.

"A friend of ours said she'd been coming to this national championship for years and years, trying to win something," Atcitty said. "She said we are blessed in some way, to get the title. I always tell Minnie that I feel blessed to just even come here and play and do this with other ladies. It's a lot of fun."

Bidtah introduced Atcitty to the sport in the 1980s, and to this day, Atcitty has never bowled with anyone else.

"I was about 19 years old," said Atcitty, a 55-year-old right-hander. "She always told me I was a natural at sports, and suggested we go bowling. I decided to give it a try, and I've been bowling on and off since."

The two women are related by marriage and remain allies on and off the lanes. When it comes to their strategy for the game, they prefer to keep it simple.

"Get a good night's sleep, rest, eat well and just roll that ball down the middle - at 80 miles an hour," Bidtah said, laughing.

This year on the lanes, Bidtah led the way in doubles with a 446 series, while Atcitty contributed a 443 set for an 889 scratch doubles score. The duo received 26 pins of handicap per game to finish with a 967 handicap total, which will not be enough for them to repeat.

Atcitty added 463 in singles and 447 in team for a 1,353 scratch all-events total, and Bidtah had 441 in singles and 439 in team for 1,326.

Later this month, Atcitty and Bidtah will head to Las Vegas for the Native American Bowling Tournament, which is being held at the bowling center inside the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa from June 27-30. They're also already thinking about their return trip to Reno a year from now for the 2014 Women's Championships.

"I used to kind of tease Minnie and tell her that before she retired from bowling, she and I were going to win something,'" Atcitty said. "That was about two years ago. She keeps saying she's getting up there in years and doesn't know how long she'll be doing this, but that she'll probably just follow me until I retire. I've always said no, and that we'd be going to go out with a bang sometime. And it came true."

The Sapphire Division consists of bowlers with averages of 149 and below. Handicap is 100 percent of 150.

Presenting sponsors for the 2013 USBC Women's Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.