Oklahoma bowlers enjoy chance to compete

RENO, Nev. -
Camaraderie is what keeps many bowlers coming back to the United States Bowling Congress Women's and Open Championships.

For two groups from Oklahoma, traveling to The Biggest Little City in the World this year meant reuniting with friends and working together on the lanes, but it also gave them a chance to experience some normalcy in the midst of a very trying time at home.

Parts of Oklahoma were ravaged by a tornado May 20, and all of the bowlers were affected in some capacity. Some lost personal property, a few lost their homes and many bowled regularly at AMF Moore Lanes in Moore, Okla., which was destroyed.

The bowling community came together to help those in need, and while trying to rebuild their lives at home, they had to decide if it was appropriate to step away and keep their commitments to compete in Reno.

The first group that headed west included 10 teams from the Oklahoma City metro area. Some bowled in leagues at AMF Moore and lost equipment that was stored in lockers there. Jeanie and Rosie Rowley, a mother and daughter, lost their home, but somehow, Rosie's bowling equipment was found safe in the trunk of her otherwise totaled car.

"My car was in the driveway, and it was totaled out," said Rosie Rowley, a first-time participant at the USBC Women's Championships. "All of the windows were busted, and the inside looked like a hurricane went through it, but the trunk of my car was left untouched. I had my brand new bowling ball for Reno in the trunk of my car."

The Rowleys were among those who considered canceling their plans to compete at the Women's Championships on June 2-3, but others convinced them the trip might be a good break for them.

"We didn't want to come at first because we were trying to get everything done and needed to look for a house to rent," Rosie said. "Our friends and family told us they'd kick our butts if we didn't go. They said we needed to go and relax and get away from everything for a while."

With help from their community and the support of friends and family, the rebuilding has begun. They even were able to get last-minute replacements for their team shirts, which also were lost.

SoonerTwisters2013_250x140Group coordinator Louise Baker sprang into action and secured replacements shirts. She actually called around to all of the bowlers to see how seriously they were affected and if anyone needed help.

Baker is the glue that hold the 10 teams together, and even when another round of tornadoes threatened the area as many of the bowlers were leaving for Reno, she stayed calm and was committed to doing everything she could to make this year's tournament experience a good one.

SoonerTwisterLogo2013_250x140"I thought it was going to be a mess," said Baker, whose teams ironically bear the name Sooner Twisters each year and feature a logo that is an outline of their home state with a bowling pin-filled tornado in the middle. "I thought we were going to come up here and have to take three people from one team and two people from another to make one team. We only needed a few subs after all."

The second wave of Oklahoma bowlers had a little more time to sort through the chaos at home before traveling to the National Bowling Stadium for the USBC Open Championships this week.

The group included 10 bowlers and their families, all of whom have spent time in, or worked at, AMF Moore. The pictures of what used to be their home bowling center circulated around the Internet in the days after the initial tornado, and bowlers from across the country turned their attention to the Sooner State.

One of the most amazing and memorable images from the bowling center wreckage was of a set of pins, nine of which still were standing, while the rest of the building was completely wiped out.

Oklahoma12013LARGE"We were all in shock because that was our home center," said Davon Hill, who worked at AMF Moore. "But a lot of the other bowling centers around were good about letting the Moore bowlers practice, sometimes even for free, and we practiced as much as we could to get ready."

Scott Bagensie of Oklahoma City lost his house and most of his belongings, but his family and pets were safe, which was the most important thing. Six-time Open Championships participant James Price of nearby Midwest City, Okla., was among those who turned out to help Bagensie sort through his things to see if anything was salvageable.

"As my wife says, we have ourselves," Bagensie said. "You can't replace everything, but more importantly, you really can't replace family. We're safe, and we found all of our pets. Now, we will pick up the pieces and move on together."

Bagensie's teammates and his wife, Marianthe, motivated him to make the trip to Reno, so he could step away from the chaos for a little while.

He has been able to compete in a Sport Bowling league with a friend every Tuesday since the tornado, and that has been his opportunity to take his mind off things. His trip to Reno also was much needed and appreciated.

Oklahoma22013_250x140"My wife is a saint and told me it would be good for me to come out here and get away from everything," said Bagensie, a first-time participant at the Open Championships, who has a 22-year-old son in the U.S. Air Force, currently serving in Afghanistan, and a 20-year-old son still at home. "Coming out two days early with nothing to do was nice, but a little overwhelming. It has been great, though. You can ask my teammates - I've been grinning ear to ear the whole time. Especially since it was going to be my first time, I didn't want to miss it."

The trip to Reno this year meant so much to all of the Oklahoma bowlers. But, while the tournament is a competition with winners and losers, and looking up to see both teams near or above the current low-to-cash number was nice, how they performed on the lanes didn't matter as much this year.

"Being able to be here and bowl again has been really nice," Price said. "Mainly, we just came out here to get away from everything and enjoy some normalcy for a few days. Before, it was more about success and winning money, but it's a little different now. This time, we're just happy to relax and spend time together."

Price rolled a 542 series and helped his team to a 2,813 total. He was joined by Bagensie (585), Richard Weers (584), first-timer Wendell Stanfield (583) and Eddie Forren (519).

Hill contributed a 601 set to his team's 2,727 effort and was joined by Paul Brewbaker (643), DeZjai Eskridge (530), Jimmy Murray (487) and Don Wenk (466).

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