Splits, spares and strikes: USBC Championship Series comes to the home of the Green Bay Packers in summer of 2015

Mining Journal sports editor Matt Wellens was visiting in Wisconsin during July when he heard some big bowling news he was sure I’d want to know.

He didn’t have all the details and wasn’t sure of its significance, but he quickly zipped off an email to me, knowing “Mr. Bowling” – that’s one of my nicknames around here – would want to hear about it.

He was right. It was the announcement of what the U.S. Bowling Congress is calling its new USBC Championship Series that will be held in Green Bay, Wis., during the summer of 2015.

That was my only disappointment, that it’s still a ways off, but it certainly sounds intriguing.

The country’s major sanctioning organization is bundling all of its major championship tournaments together in one place at one time in hopes of bringing more attention to them.

Now this doesn’t include the big participation tournaments, such as the USBC Open and Women’s Championships, which annually draw anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 bowlers. It included people like you and me who could average 50, 150 or 250. I’m proud to say I’ve been going to the USBC Open event every year since 1996.

What the Championship Series will include are a half-dozen events that fans would want to see as spectators. The two big jewels are the Masters and Queens.

The Masters, technically a coed event but traditionally a men’s tourney, is also one of the majors for the Professional Bowlers Association, usually paying $50,000 or $100,000 for first place. The finals are always shown on ESPN, usually live.

It’s the tourney that was held in Milwaukee each year from 2004-07 with the finals in ’04 and ’07 held in the outfield of the baseball Brewers’ Miller Park. They built four lanes, including the pinsetting machines, just behind first base facing the stands so that about 5,000 people could watch from the regular baseball seats. These occurred in late October with the roof closed, so it didn’t disrupt the baseball schedule.

The Queens is one of the two major events for elite women bowlers now that there hasn’t been a women’s pro tour for about 10 or 15 years.

ESPN showed the Sept. 5 finals of this year’s Queens a few days afterward, but unfortunately, the telecast was on a Sunday afternoon when the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers were playing their season openers, not to mention the Detroit Tigers playing a game still important in their playoff chase.

I just happened to notice the listing for the Queens telecast that morning, and made sure to tape it (yes, with my VCR!) to watch later.

Those two tournaments plus the Senior Queens, Senior Masters, Senior Championships and Summer Team USA Trials will be held one after another for almost a month from July 17-Aug. 12, all at Ashwaubenon Bowl in Ashwaubenon just south of Green Bay. It’s located right off U.S. 41 almost in the shadow of the South Oneida Street exit.

The Senior Masters and Senior Queens are the 50-plus year old versions of their Masters and Queens counterparts, the Team USA Trials are tryouts for the national teams that compete all over the world, and the Senior Championships is an event I’m not familiar with, but is said to be a national tourney for bowlers who qualify through state senior tournaments.

Each event has its own set of three to seven days in the spotlight, though the big day will be right in the middle of the whole series on Aug. 2, a Sunday, when the TV finals will be conducted for both Queens and Masters tournaments. Nothing was indicated from the USBC news report whether either would be shown live or taped for a future date.

I was able to watch two or three of the Masters tourneys in Milwaukee, all except the TV finals, and it’s a completely different world seeing pros you’ve seen on TV up close and live in a bowling center.

You can wander up and down the concourse to catch different competitors in action, or pick a spot and sit down in the bleachers that are set up just for the event. You’ll still see a variety of bowlers even if you stay glued to one spot, since the bowlers have to move anywhere from four to 10 lanes from game to game.

There’s no space left here today, so in a future column I’ll relate some of the great things I’ve seen at these tournaments. Just a little teaser – one involves all-time PBA wins leader Walter Ray Williams, Jr.