2014 Special Olympics National Unified Tournament concludes

RENO, Nev. - Marty Allen of Columbus, Ohio, may not compete in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, but he's as much a part of tournament history as anyone.

Since 1991, Allen has served as the tournament director for the Special Olympics National Unified Tournament, an event that gives Special Olympics bowlers and their friends and family the chance to share in the USBC Open Championships experience.

For two days each year, the custom Open Championships venue belongs to Allen and competitors from across the country. They meet in the squad room, make the traditional march down Center Aisle and compete under the high ceilings and bright convention-center lights.

MartyAllen SO250x140Allen, who has been the program director for Special Olympics Ohio since 1982, takes great pride in the continued success of the National Unified Tournament and the countless memories the event has brought to tens of thousands of bowlers over the years.

"This tournament came along in the fall of 1990," Allen said. "Jim Schroeder and George Smith, who worked at Special Olympics International, had the idea of holding a tournament prior to the start of the 1991 Open Championships to help break in the lanes. We held a unified tournament, which was a brand new concept at the time, of matching community partners with Special Olympics athletes."

This year, 72 four-player teams from 11 states converged on the one-of-a-kind National Bowling Stadium to compete in team and doubles competition. They competed in 13 average-based divisions in team and 26 divisions for doubles.

Because the event is more about camaraderie, friendship and teamwork, the ribbons and medals become secondary to the overall experience of competing together on bowling's biggest stage.

"As a program director, I don't spend as much time as I used to at the events," Allen said. "To come to the event and see the athletes doing their best and congratulating each other shows great camaraderie. A lot of them come back each year, so they are able to make friendships."

When the Open Championships makes its first visit to El Paso, Texas, in 2015, Allen and the National Unified Tournament also will reach a milestone as they celebrate 25 years alongside the world's largest participatory sporting event.

"We're really looking forward to next year in El Paso," Allen said. "We feel honored to be a part of this tradition, and we've made a lot of friends along the way."

Schroeder, of Tonawanda, N.Y., is a USBC Hall of Famer and a 65-time Open Championships participant. He was instrumental in bringing the two events together and has been present every step of the way, making the trip to be a part of the National Unified Tournament every year.

The Unified Tournament traditionally is part of the opening-week festivities at the Open Championships.

The 2014 Open Championships officially begins its 136-day run Friday with a ribbon cutting, Mass Ball Shot Ceremony and the tournament's opening squad at 7 p.m. The 2014 event marks the tournament's record 12th trip to Reno and ninth visit to the NBS, which is in the middle of a multi-phase $15 million renovation.

Presenting sponsors for the 2014 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.