One of Webster's many definitions of "matrix" is "a die or mold for casting or shaping."
The St. Petersburg Association (it is actually a men's association, but shuns that gender distinction) has broken the mold, if you will. It has deserted a Pinellas County matrix established more than 50 years ago and offered its 2000 city tournament to the highest bidder.
"We established the matrix some years after the St. Petersburg Women's Association (SPWBA) was formed back in the 1940s," said St. Petersburg's Dot Leigh. "Our city tournament was held at one of the few centers then available, but as new centers came on board, they wanted a slice of our city tournament too. So, we set up the matrix to rotate the tournament and give every center a fair shot."
Leigh is a member of the SPWBA Hall of Fame, creator of the long-standing St. Petersburg Women's Classic, and the lone active bowling survivor of those formative years in St. Petersburg.
"We held the Classic for years at Ten Pin Lanes, but again, as other centers were built, we put that tournament on a matrix too," Leigh recalled.
After the women's matrix was established, the men's association and two Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA) associations in Pinellas County also organized one and, with a few exceptions, all have stuck with it. The men's and women's associations each cover nine centers in lower and central Pinellas County.
"We had to do something drastic because our city tournament is dying," said men's association president John Hahmann. "We don't know how this will work or if it will bring more entries, but we have to try."
Hahmann is half right. Two years ago, the men's tournament drew a record-low 43 teams. Last year, offering a new car to the first 300-game bowler and other incentives, the field shot up to 141 teams. Hahmann's bid letter to proprietors predicts "140 or more teams" for the February 2000 renewal. It also offers incentives for early registration and to seniors, and encourages centers to do the same for their house entries.
The men's association lost 600 members over the past year and membership is now 4,225, according to secretary Dave O'Brien.
Why are members fleeing?
"There are a number of factors," O'Brien said. "Increased ABC dues, lack of interest in league competition, job and locale changes, other sports and entertainment attractions all contribute to defections from our association."
Leigh has another answer: "Our economy is so good that people can afford big-ticket items like new boats, expensive vacations and high-priced season tickets to the Bucs and Devil Rays. Just wait until the economy is not so great, then you'll see bowlers flocking back to the centers."
What if nobody bids for the men's city tournament?
"Oh, I don't think that will happen," O'Brien said.
NABI DOES WELL: Area NABI members did well in the NABI nationals last month at Las Vegas.
Jerri Eggleston of Clearwater placed in the top 16 of the Top Gun Eliminator tournament, Vince Davis of St. Petersburg placed in the top 10 of the Recruiter tournament, and Steve Wills of Indian Rocks Beach gained the semifinals of the Storm Challenge. Pam McGinnis of Hudson finished in the top 20 of the Kick-Off singles tournament.
The national event is actually 11 tournaments in one over a week's competition, and it attracted more than 4,000 bowlers from across the country. NABI paid out more than $300,000 in prize money. Diane Harris of Midlothian, Va., won the top prize of $40,000. There are more than 30,000 members in clubs in 31 states.
Larry and Debby Roesler, managers of the local NABI clubs, won a directors-of-the-year award.
Jeff Coles beat fellow Clearwater bowler Jim Cuttita 232-180 to win his first NABI title and $350 at Seminole Lanes last weekend. Hudson's Pam McGinnis was third, St. Petersburg's Clark Valette fourth and Largo's Russell Javitz fifth.
MATCH PLAY NEAR: Qualifying opened last weekend for the Florida Men's and Ladies' All-Star Match-Play Championships at Sunshine Bowl, but entries are still available for the final qualifying session today.
Entry fee is $45 for both men and women, with a $35 re-entry fee. The tournament is open to all ABC/WIBC-sanctioned bowlers. Qualifying squad times are 11:30 a.m., 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. today. Double-elimination matches begin at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 with the finals at 1 p.m. Aug. 22.
The men's champion earns $1,200 and the women's winner takes home $750.
AROUND THE LANES: Jim Gray nailed an 804 series, Jack Runkle rolled a 300 game and Mike LaBranche and Mariann Russo rolled 299 games at Sunshine Bowl. Mike Hallums recorded a 299-657 at Twedt's Lanes. Tim Psarsky fired a 299-663 at AMF Clearwater Lanes. Jarrod McComas, Bobby Redmond and Gene Duck rolled 300 games and Nick Francis had a 299 game at Liberty Lanes. The Callahan Bail Bonds Scratch Trio League will hold an organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at AMF Kenneth City Lanes.
_ Phil Gulick can be reached at Xerxes6aol.com or Xerxesjuno.com