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ABC Tournament reaches midway point
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff Bob Winston of Lexington, N.C., has held on to the lead in the Classified Singles division since Feb. 26.

Bowling balls are flying off the shelves, and the pins keep tumbling.

The 99th American Bowling Congress Tournament reaches its halfway point today at the MetraPark Expo Center, with simply no let up in sight.

"It does keep rolling right along," said Kevin Olson, the ABC's registration manager. "The one thing that will change from this point on is we will absolutely be on a steady, steady pace. We won't have any real breaks."

Today is day 68 of the 135-day event, which started on Feb. 9 and is scheduled to conclude on June 23. Because of the traditional slow days in February and March, more than half of the expected 54,000 bowlers still haven't passed through Billings yet, Olson noted.

"There might be between 28,000-29,000 left to come," he said.

That means the number of perfect 300 games - currently 33 and counting - is bound to grow. So will the sales figures at Bill Calhoon's Ebonite booth in the vendor area.

"Business is great," said the 49-year-old Calhoon, a ball technician from Cooksville, Ill. "We're breaking all the records for sales for Ebonite."

Calhoon and his crew have sold as many as 52 bowling balls - ranging in price from $84 to $189 - in a single day. That shattered Ebonite's old ABC Tournament booth record of 41.

"I've had to call up and get a third guy to come and work for me," Calhoon said.

The mood of Brian Lewis, ABC Tournament director, is also upbeat as the competition passes its halfway milestone.

He said when you factor in the overall turnout of bowlers (10,806 five-member teams expected), along with the big scores being shot and the support being displayed by the city of Billings, "This ranks right up there as one of the best (ABC) tournaments all the way around."

As for the pins, they're being scattered in seemingly record fashion. The most 300 games ever recorded at an ABC Tournament is 51 in Tulsa, Okla., in 1993.

"Even our boss, Mr. (Jack) Mordini, when he calls to check in says, 'How many 300s did you have today?' " Lewis said. "The scores are certainly higher than anticipated, which is OK. That says a lot about the quality of our bowlers and the quality of the installation by AMF."

In addition to the 33 300s, there's also been 10 299s and five 298 games.

"It was very playable," bowler Jeff Carter of Springfield, Ill., said of the gleaming lanes after competing last weekend. "This is probably the most playable ABC I've seen. A lot of different people with a lot of different styles were able to match up pretty well to this (lane condition)."

Carter, by the way, is recognized by the ABC as the bowler with the most sanctioned 300 games to his credit - 77 overall. The paperwork is pending on as many as nine more.

The closest Carter got to 300 at this ABC Tournament was a 252, so achieving a perfect game isn't guaranteed.

John Forst, who heads Kegel's lane maintenance operation at the tournament, said 300 games are actually occurring about once in every 7,000 games at the ABC competition.

"It just seems like (there's more) because there's one a day," Forst said. Especially during the last week, when eight were recorded.

Forst said the pattern of oil applied to each lane has been consistent, the AMF lane surface is holding up well and pin carry has been very good. That, coupled with the fact that many talented bowlers have already competed at the tournament, has contributed to the big games.

"You can't just free-wheel and you're going to get an automatic strike," said Forst. "You have to make a good shot … I think it's a (lane) condition where everybody can a find a place where to play and it's recognizable to them.

"If a bowler has confidence that he's going to throw the ball well and he's going to get paid for it, that takes away half of their inhibitions," Forst said.

As for all of the big games impacting the integrity of the tournament, Forst added, "I don't think that there's anything to worry about. There has only been two 800 (series) … Whatever happens, happens. I don't go out there when a guy has got the front nine and root against him."

Keep this in mind, though. "We've got some of the best bowlers yet to come to the tournament here," said Olson.

In the past, the Masters Tournament, bringing many of the best amateur and professional players together, has normally been held at the ABC Tournament in early May. The Masters, however, isn't in Billings this year, but some of the best amateur players still have slots reserved to bowl here in the coming weeks, Olson said.

And while the tournament is at its halfway point, Olson said that every day is really opening day.

"There's new bowlers walking in the door every single day," Olson said. "From the vendors to the ABC staff to the local workers, it's our obligation to put on the best show that we can each day."

Forst has talked to ABC personnel and vendors and the overall mood of the bowlers, it seems, is happy. He added, however, that their happiness might not be related just to the high scores.

"I've done a lot of traveling myself and there hasn't been a town of more friendlier people," Forst said of Billings. "And I've been to a lot of cities."

Calhoon, who has been a part of nearly 35 ABC Tournaments, agreed.

He said the Ebonite booth is establishing sales records because "we're not afraid to answer everybody's questions and say 'hi' to everybody.

"The way the people have treated us in Billings, Montana has been beautiful," Calhoon added. "I hope we get to come back here again."

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