PBA Tournament of Champions Comes Full Circle: 51 Years Later, Tournament Returns to its Indianapolis Birthplace

by Jerry Schneider March 8, 2013 07:16

The concept was simple: create an event showcasing bowling’s elite that in turn would showcase the sport of professional bowling. To earn admission, a player needed to have won a Professional Bowlers Association title.

That was the motivation behind the creation of the PBA Tournament of Champions in 1962 in Indianapolis.

When most bowling fans think of the glorious history of the Tournament of Champions – now the PBA’s signature tournament – they recall the iconic run of the “Firestone Tournament of Champions” at Riviera Lanes in suburban Akron, Ohio. But few remember that the classic got its start in Indianapolis.

On March 27, the Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions returns to its birthplace – this time at Woodland Bowl – when a field of 48 PBA Tour champions will compete for a $50,000 first prize – a sum that is equal to the entire prize fund in that inaugural event. The top five players after 48 games will advance to the live ESPN-televised stepladder finals Sunday, March 31, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

The PBA was only three years old when the concept of creating a climactic season-ending tournament for the PBA’s elite players was born, launching bowling into the ranks of America’s mainstream sports.

The 1962 TOC was held at Play Bowl in Indianapolis and was actually billed as the Indianapolis 500 Festival Tournament of Champions according to the Indianapolis Star’s coverage of the tournament. It’s an often-forgotten event because the tournament would not be held again for three years. In 1965, Firestone began its landmark sponsorship, the classic moved to Bowlarama in Akron, Ohio and the Firestone Tournament of Champions began its lengthy run as the PBA’s premier event.

The TOC concept was the brainchild of PBA founder Eddie Elias and the PBA Tournament Committee, according to PBA Hall of Famer and legendary historian Chuck Pezzano.

“Eddie always came from the mindset that if golf had a tour, there was no reason bowling shouldn’t have one, too,” Pezzano, a PBA charter member, said. “He wanted to do something that would grab more attention for a sport that he felt had so much potential, so he got together with the Tournament Committee and they came up with the concept of this showcase tournament.

“The Tournament of Champions put bowling and the PBA on the map as a mainstream sport,” Pezzano said. “Eddie was also committed to the bowlers and giving them opportunities, and the creation of the Tournament of Champions really was a testament to that.”

While the first TOC was considered an immediate success, it wasn’t until Firestone entered the picture, and the tournament was moved to the company’s (and PBA’s) home base in Akron that it really began to grow and prosper.

“Even though that first tournament was a success, Eddie didn’t want to have it just to have a tournament,” Pezzano added, “so the concept was put on hold until appropriate funding could be found to make it a first-class major sporting event. That happened in 1965 when Firestone came on board as the sponsor.”

The first TOC in 1962 was a two-day event featuring 25 PBA Tour champions – everyone who had won a title since the PBA’s formation four years earlier -- and it was conducted immediately after the Indianapolis PBA Open, which also was held at Play Bowl.

The unique format required the field of 25 players to bowl a round-robin match play format that consisted of one-game matches. Points were awarded for winning a match and for pinfall. When the event concluded after 26 games, the top three moved on to the TV finals.

The inaugural event was televised as part of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and shared air time with reports from the Indianapolis 500 time trials that weekend. PBA Hall of Famers Chris Schenkel and Billy Welu called the action.

Detroit bowling star and PBA charter member Joe Joseph, fellow Michigan star Billy Golembiewski and bowling legend Carmen Salvino of Chicago were the three who advanced to the televised finals – a two-game contest with final standings based on total pins for the two games.

Golembiewski, who had recently won the American Bowling Congress Masters, dominated the first of the two days of competition with Salvino and Joseph also pulling away from the rest of the field. But when match play concluded, it was Joseph who earned top qualifier honors with a 20-6 match play record and averaging 224.

After the first game of the final, Salvino held the lead with a 237 followed by Joseph with 201 and Golembiewski with 183. At that point, ABC cut away for a report from the Indy time trials before returning to the second game.

The break between games turned out to be Salvino’s nemesis. He was told that the break would be approximately a half hour, so he left the bowling area thinking he had plenty of time to rest up and prepare for the second game. As it turned out, ABC came back from the Indy 500 time trials early and Salvino was late returning to the lanes. He received no practice while Golembiewski and Joseph had remained on the lanes, practicing throughout the break.

But when game two started the tide had turned to Joseph’s favor. The Michigan star closed with a 279 game for a 480 two-game total. Golembiewski added 233 for a 416 total and Salvino struggled to a 172, falling to third place with 409 pins.

“To this day that was the most exciting and at the same time most depressing tournament I’ve ever bowled in,” said the 79-year-old Salvino, who was 28 at the time. “But it was my own fault for not being ready for the second game. I had to take responsibility for that.”

Joseph took home a $15,000 first prize from the $50,000 prize fund.

But Salvino also thought that first Tournament of Champions was a defining moment for the sport.

“I believe that tournament resulted in bowling becoming a big-time sport. We became celebrities after that telecast,” Salvino said. “With ABC televising it live with the Indy 500 time trials it said to me that network television was giving the sport a lot of respect.”

Another PBA Hall of Famer, Detroit native Dave Soutar, also bowled in the inaugural TOC at the age of 22, finishing 13th. Soutar, who last summer announced his retirement after more than 50 years in PBA competition, has never forgotten that first event.

“I was basically a rookie and what impressed me most was competing in a tournament where I was in awe of all the players,” said Soutar, who had qualified by winning the 1961 PBA National Championship. “My performance wasn’t very memorable but that was almost secondary to just being in a tournament with so many great bowlers.”

Like Salvino, Soutar agreed that the first TOC was a turning point for the sport.

“It definitely elevated the sport to another level,” Soutar said. “Even though there were other major tournaments at the time, you just had the feeling this was something special.”

Rounding out the top five were newcomer Al Savas of Milwaukee, who finished fourth, with bowling legend Don Carter in fifth place, falling short of the finals after a making a late tournament challenge.

The 2013 Barbasol Tournament of Champions – coincidentally returning to the city where Barbasol shaving cream was invented – gets underway with three eight-game qualifying rounds on Wednesday, March 27, and Thursday, March 28, with the top 24 players after 24 games advancing to three eight-game round robin match play rounds Thursday and Friday which will determine the five players for the stepladder finals.

On Saturday, the PBA champions will bowl with Indianapolis-area amateur men, women and youth league bowlers in a pro-am event, and Saturday evening, Danny Wiseman of Baltimore and Doug Kent of Newark, N.Y., will be inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in ceremonies at the Indianapolis Marriott North. Sunday’s schedule also will include the stepladder finals of the PBA League Elias Cup, the inaugural PBA League championship round, which will air on ESPN on Sunday, April 7, at 1 p.m. ET.

All preliminary rounds of the TOC will be webcast live, exclusively on PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame. Xtra Frame subscription information, pro-am and ticket information, are available on pba.com.

2013 BARBASOL PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS SCHEDULE
Woodland Bowl, Indianapolis, March 27-31

Wednesday, March 27
10 a.m. – 8 qualifying games
5 p.m. – 8 qualifying games

Thursday, March 28
10 a.m. – 8 qualifying games

Top 24 after 24 games advance to round robin match play
5 p.m. – Top 24, 8 games round robin match play

Friday, March 29
10 a.m. - Top 24, 8 games round robin match play
5 p.m. – Top 24, 8 games round robin match play

Top five after 48 games advance to ESPN stepladder finals

Saturday, March 30
9:30 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m. – Pro-am squads
7 p.m. – PBA Hall of Fame dinner, Indianapolis Marriott North

Sunday, March 31
2:30 p.m. – Top five stepladder finals live on ESPN
6 p.m. – PBA League Elias Cup finals (tape-delayed on ESPN)

1962 PBA TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS FINAL STANDINGS
Play Bowl, Indianapolis, Ind., May 19-20, 1962

1. Joe Joseph, Lansing, Mich., $15,000.
2. Billy Golembiewski, Detroit, $7,500.
3. Carmen Salvino, Chicago, $4,000.
4. Al Savas, Milwaukee, Wis., $2,000.
5. Don Carter, St. Louis, Mo., $1,500.
6. Bill Bunetta, Fresno, Calif., $1,200.
7. Skip Vigars, Albany, N.Y., $1,100.
8. Fred Lening, Fairless Hills, Pa., $1,000.
9. George Howard, Detroit, $900.
10. Dick Weber, St. Louis, Mo., $800.
11. Dick Hoover, Akron, Ohio, $775.
12. Harry Smith, Baltimore, Md., $750.
13. Dave Soutar, Detroit, $725.
14. Vern Downing, Rodeo, Calif., $700.
15. Glenn Allison, St. Louis, Mo., $690.
16. Roy Lown, Baltimore, $680.
17. Dick Agee, San Jose, Calif., $670.
18. Lou Campi, Dumont, N.J., $660.
19. Andy Rogoznica, Chicago, $650.
20. J. B. Solomon, Dallas, Tex., $640.
21. Tom Hennessey, St. Louis, Mo., $630.
22. Glen Blakesley, Kansas City, Mo., $620.
23. Morrie Oppenheim, Chicago, $610.
24. Earl Johnson, Minneapolis, $600.
25. Don Bickford, Oakland, Calif., $600.

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