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Identity/image problem threatens industry's status

When 1895 rolled around, 300 hardy men antied up their dues and the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was born.

From that year on, ABC membership grew steadily to its peak of 4.5-million members in 1975-76. But, it has been downhill since then as enrollment has declined to the present 1.9-million sanctioned members, men and women.

There are a hundred reasons for the drop and a hundred remedies tried during those years to stem the tide, but none has worked. Changing times and attitudes; more outlets for the public's recreational dollar; a faster-paced society, and more people moving toward outdoors activities such as bicycling, fishing, tennis, golf and softball are all factors contributing to the decline.

Although bowling remains the top participation sport in the country with more than 4-million picking up a ball at least once a year, it may soon lose that distinction as the industry continues to struggle with an identity/image problem that may have no solution.

The latest figures from the ABC's annual report provide interesting reading.

The city and state with the largest membership remain Detroit and Michigan, with 66,838 and 172,101 members respectively. Chicago is second at 29,201 and Washington, D.C., third at 24,235. No Florida city is in the top 20. However, Florida ranks eighth in state associations with 76,357 members in 2,960 leagues. Last season, there were 203 centers in Florida with 5,850 lanes.

During the 1998-99 season, the ABC had 75,860 leagues bowling at 6,712 certified centers involving that aforementioned 1.9-million sanctioned participants.

The ABC reached overseas to Europe with 58 associations and 106 leagues involving 4,314 bowlers in 41 centers. Japan listed 44 leagues and 949 members. Saudi Arabia is listed with two associations, but no leagues, no teams, no centers and no members.

The ABC last year collected $11.1-million in dues, $6.24-million in tournament entry fees and another $1.2-million in investments. Total income was $22.4-million, more than $5-million less than in 1998.

The highest expenditure last year was $4.049-million for prizes, followed by $2.47-million for awards. The ABC paid $1.56-million in salaries, nearly $300,000 more than the previous year. The membership test program, which has yet to reveal a positive outcome, ate up another $1.049-million, nearly double the outlay the previous year.

Total expenses and losses were $25.64-million, compared to $24.54-million in 1998. Total assets at the end of last year were $10.2-million, almost $3-million less than the previous year.

Just last month, the ABC board indicated it would request a dues increase at its annual delegates convention later this year.

YBT WINNERS: St. Petersburg's Brian Halstrom and Matt Mayhugh, foes during the high school bowling season, finished third and fourth respectively in the Youth Bowlers Tour event Jan. 23 at Brandon Crossroads Bowl.

J.L. Smith of Dade City won the AA Scratch title; Halstrom earned $100 and Mayhugh $50 in college scholarship money.

Halstrom has won this division six times and was a member of the Dixie Hollins team that won the Pinellas County High School League scratch and handicap titles. Mayhugh was on the Gibbs High squad that won the Open Division state title last month.

Shawn Bowers of Spring Hill captured the A Scratch title and $400. Scott Meredith of New Port Richey was third for $100, and Kelli McManus, also from New Port Richey, finished seventh.

The B Handicap title went to Sarasota's Brian Goetz, and Largo's Donald Clark was seventh. Megan Crowley of Longwood won the C Handicap title, and St. Petersburg's Kristie Petravich was second.

The next tournament is March 5 at Seminole Lanes. Entry fee is $20 prepaid, $25 at the door, and entry forms can be printed from the Web site at www.bowlerstour.com.

ROCKIN' ON: Purdue takes on the University of Kansas at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the fifth show of Rockin' Bowl on TNN-TV.

The University of Illinois beat Fresno State University Tuesday night in a rollicking show that featured bowling from a chair, relay bowling and spectator participation.

The concept brings together 16 co-ed college teams, including seven former or defending national champions, in a fun-for-all format. Teams are competing for more than $20,000 in scholarship money, with the winner earning $10,000. FSU tackles Michigan State University on Feb. 22.

BAILEY WINS AGAIN: Palm Harbor's Sean Bailey won his second NABI title and $350 Sunday at Seminole Lanes, beating Seminole's Don Lebo 233-204.

Pinellas Park's Dale Barber finished third, followed by St. Petersburg's Clark Valette and Clearwater's Oliver Smith. NABI is at Largo's Twedt's Lanes for a one-day doubles tourney Saturday.

AROUND THE LANES: Chris Fitzgibbon, a member of the Palm Harbor University High team, rolled a 300 game at AMF Clearwater Lanes. Mark Berry nailed a 274-805 and Jerry Woodward rolled a 299 game at Liberty Lanes. Paul Victory fired games of 289-289-300 for an 878 series in 1997 at Liberty Lanes. That is the Pinellas County men's record, not the 868 shot by Bob Willard last year. Victory's series is one pin shy of the state record set by Wally Thompson of Orange Park two years ago. Norm Waterman nailed a 300-715 and George Bickford shot a 300 game at AMF Kenneth City Lanes. Ed Moody managed a 299-651 at Seminole Lanes. Tom Johnson rolled a 300-749, Todd Bunday recorded a 299-803 and George Swee fired a 290-714 at Sunshine Bowl. Jim Spengler shot a 300 at Rainbow Lanes.

_ Phil Gulick can be reached at Xerxes6aol.com or Xerxesjuno.com.

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