Bill Lillard might not ever catch his hero Joe Norris nor his good friend Dick Weber in total pinfall at the American Bowling Congress Tournament. But few others ever will surpass Lillard in the category of class.
The Houston, Texas, native celebrated the 30th anniversary of his 1972 induction into the ABC Hall of Fame by bowling in his 55th ABC Tournament over the weekend.
"I'm 74 years young," said Lillard on Saturday at the MetraPark Expo Center. "My knees are pretty well gone, but I can still bowl nine games in two days. As long as I can do that, I'll keep coming to the ABC Tournament."
Lillard added another 1,771 pins to his pinfall total, bowling a 584 series in the team event, 605 in Regular Doubles and 582 in Regular Singles. Lillard now has knocked down a total of 103,123 pins in 55 ABC Tournaments, a total that puts him 3,185 pins behind the total of Weber, who also bowled his 55th ABC this year.
Amazingly, Lillard (201.1) and Weber (202.4) both own ABC Tournament averages of over 200 pins per game.
Lillard and Weber, however, are still far behind Norris, the all-time pinfall leader who knocked down a phenomenal total of 123,179 pins in 71 ABC Tournaments. Norris passed away in February of 2001 at the age of 93.
"Joe Norris was my hero," said Lillard, with tears welling in his eyes as he spoke. "The man was truly a legend in his own time, not in his own mind.
"Joe didn't want to bowl just to bowl - he wanted to be competitive. And he was. He was 92 when he bowled a 200 game in the last game he ever bowled in the ABC Tournament (at the 2000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M.). And he struck out in the 10th frame to do it."
At their current scoring pace, Weber and Lillard would need to bowl another 10 years or more in the ABC Tournament to approach Norris' pinfall total. Lillard is not sure if that will happen, but he'd like to give it a shot.
"I don't know if anyone will ever beat Joe," said Lillard. "I kid Dick and tell him that he'd better stay sharp or I'm going to catch him, but I don't know if that will happen, either. Dick is amazing. He bowled 1,886 here this year … amazing."
A fateful walk Lillard's path to bowling greatness began on his path home from school one day in Dallas. He stopped one day to check out the action at newly-constructed Lakewood Lanes, and the rest is history.
"Lakewood Lanes was a brand new 16-lane house that I walked by every day on my way home from school," recalled Lillard. "I was in junior high when I stopped and watched a group of men bowl one day. At the time, I thought to myself 'If I was a little bit bigger and stronger, I bet I could beat those guys.'
"I bowled my first game when I was 12. I think I bowled an 86."
ABC Tournament legend That 86 quickly turned into much bigger scores. Lillard won his first two ABC Tournament titles (Team and Team All-Events) at the age of 27. A year later, in the 1956 tournament, he made history when he became the first man to win four titles in one ABC Tournament - Team, Team All-Events, Individual All-Events and Doubles (with Stan Gifford).
Lillard won his seventh ABC Eagle in 1962 (Team), then tied fellow Hall of Famer Fred Bujack for the most career ABC titles by winning his eighth in 1971 (Team).
Along with his ABC championships, Lillard's fondest bowling memories are his days with the legendary Budweiser Beer team from St. Louis. Also on that team - whose 3,858 series in 1958 still ranks as one of the highest team series ever - were fellow bowling legends Dick Weber and Don Carter.
"Don and Dick were No. 1 and No. 2 on the list of the greatest bowlers of all time," said Lillard, referring to a list compiled in 1971 through a poll in Bowling Magazine. "I would put Earl Anthony right up there with them now, but of course that poll was done before Earl was in his prime.
"Just to be on the same team with men of that caliber was unbelievable. I was thrilled just to be in the top 20 on that list (Lillard was ranked No. 17). Those were some of the greatest days of my life."
Still rolling strikes Lillard and his business partner, Pete Treybig, own a pair of 44-lane bowling centers in Houston, Palace Lanes and Copperfield Bowl. Lillard still bowls league one night a week at each center.
"I would love to bowl more. I would love to bowl Senior PBA events," said Lillard, who also was in Billings in February for the tournament's opening ceremonies. "But with my knees I just can't bowl the number of games it takes to be competitive.
"But I enjoy what bowling I can do. And I enjoy all of the other things in my life as well. I don't have any complaints."
Mike Zimmer can be reached at 657-1394 or email@example.com.