One of the Capital Region’s historic scratch bowling leagues is trying to rebuild and recover after several seasons of fading popularity.
The Vitalo Classic, which bowls Saturday nights at Sportsman’s Bowl, has featured many of the game’s top performers over its more than 70-year run as a premier showcase for serious bowlers. Only eight three-person teams competed last season, and many of its members were at least considering leaving unless a few more teams join for the 2022-23 campaign.
League secretary Mark Ray is desperately reaching out to ensure the Vitalo Classic will be around for many years to come.
“I think some of the problems we’ve had over the last couple of years could be attributed to COVID. The pandemic really [hurt] a lot of the older guys in the league. They decided they didn’t want to bowl any more, especially if they had to wear a mask. Bowling for them was very risky at the time,” Ray pointed out.
“Plus, Saturday night is a tough night. There aren’t that many leagues for scratch bowlers on a Saturday night.”
Ray, himself one of the area’s best bowlers with 82,800 triples, admitted that only very serious bowlers devote one of their weekend evenings to league competition, especially with so many tournaments popping up in recent years.
“It’s a classic league, and it’s open [no restrictions]. We don’t have any average caps,” Ray noted. “We’ve even become more relaxed with some of our rules over the last few years, including our dress code. We’ve modernized, and I think we get along better because it’s not as cut-throat as it used to be, even though we offer more prize money than we used to.”
Vitalo Classic rosters over the years look more like a local hall of fame listing than a weekly league. Ray, inducted into the Schenectady USBC in 2007, has been a member of the league for 32 years. Off the top of his head, he mentioned some of the current and past members that are familiar names among the area’s best bowlers.
“The Diamond brothers [Jay and Jamie] bowled in the league for a very long time. Steve Renzi, the Carl family (Bill, Kalynn and Justin) and the Fawcett family [Steve and Chris] have all bowled for us. Then you’ve got bowlers like Mike Smith, Jodi Musto, Earl Lawrence Jr. Brian Brown, Dave Mennillo, Skip Vigars, Joe Donato, all three proprietors at one time or another [Mike Guildarelli, Bob Tedesco Jr. and Paul Adkins] and Bob Tedesco Sr. are just a few of the names of outstanding members we’ve had. When you go back a few years, there were guys like Rit Carney, Harry Polomaine, Cuby Fiorillo, Frank DePalma and Rit Szczepanski. I can go on and on. There were so many great bowlers both now and in the past,” said.
Mennillo, a Schenectady USBC Hall of Famer and the former longtime league secretary of the Vitalo Classic, was famous for his detailed league statistics and record-keeping. He gave up his duties a few years ago when he retired from league bowling and began working at the Rivers Casino.
The Vitalo Classic features a prize fund in excess of $11,000 based on 10 teams for 32 weeks. Weekly dues are $25 a week. New bowlers can join as individuals or as a three-person team. Interested bowlers can contact Ray, Renzi or Sportsman’s Bowl. The league begins Sept. 10.
“We’re trying to get back up to at least 10 teams for this season, and then expand after that,” Ray said. “We were up to 14 teams before COVID, and then we lost some people. I know we’re losing a couple more. Some teams want to stay, but some others don’t want to bowl unless there are at least 10 teams. We have a team from Albany that wants to join us, and we have bits and pieces of other teams that will be joining together to form a few more teams,” Ray said.
“Our league moves along very quickly, and we’re usually done with our four games by 8:45 pm most nights. You can even have a four-person roster if you want so you have a substitute when someone else can’t bowl, but that extra team member can’t bowl on any other team.”
Ray said the Vitalo still awards a scholarship for bowlers who roll their first perfect game. There are plenty of side jackpots available, as well as a 50-50 drawing every week.
BOWLING BACK IN FULTON COUNTY
Bowling in Fulton County got a big boost this summer with new ownership at both Arterial Lanes in Gloversville and Perry Lanes in Johnstown. Both centers closed, apparently for good, in the last season or two.
Lew LaBahn, the longtime area bowling standout, pro shop operator, lane mechanic and the proprietor of Starlite Lanes, recently purchased Arterial Lanes, which closed down at the end of last season.
Meanwhile, Brad and Jessica Hayner bought Perry Lanes in Johnstown, which had been closed for more than a year.
Both centers are scheduled to open by the first week of September.
LaBahn, who will continue to operate the eight-lane Starlite Lanes beside the 16-lane Arterial Lanes, said his purchase of Arterial is just about finalized. “I’ve got arrangements with the previous owners to open it up while we tie up some loose ends,” LaBahn said. “It’s a process. We want to get it open for the bowlers so that they can get in some practice before the leagues start and get organized.”
LaBahn said he saw the sign on the building about Arterial closing down in April, and he thought it would be a good opportunity. “I figured it was a good idea to give them a call. The price was right,” he said. “I plan on running both centers, at least for a while. There won’t be room for all the bowlers at Starlite, so I don’t want to leave any bowlers out.”
LaBahn said he will run the prop shop at Arterial. “Their pro shop guy retired two years ago, and last year they went without a pro shop. I got to know a lot of the bowlers over there, and a lot of them came to me as the closest place to drill their equipment. It’s good that I know some of them. Many of them were encouraging me to buy the place.”
LaBahn said that the lanes and the scoring system of both Starlite and Arterial are identical, meaning it should be an easy transition.
“I’m really looking forward to opening up Arterial Lanes,” he said. “I used to work there and took care of the lanes for a couple of seasons about 25 years ago,” he said.
Although they are new to the bowling business, the Hayners are no strangers to Perry Lanes.
“I kind of grew up there,” said Brad Hayner. “I started bowling in the junior bowling program there on Saturday mornings when I was 3-years-old. I’ve been bowling there ever since.”
Hayner, 33, has averaged as high as 221 with three perfect games.
“I hope we can open by Sept. 1. We should be fine,” he said. “The lanes are scheduled to be resurfaced next week. Right now, I’ve got all my friends and family helping out, but we will be hiring more staff soon. Once we get the ball rolling, and we get a better feel for things, we will be hiring pin chasers, waitresses and front-desk people.”
Hayner said he is waiting to see how many leagues he’ll have to start the season before he decides how long he will stay open each day. “I suspect that we’ll have some day leagues, and I’ll cater to them. We’ll also have Rock ‘N Bowl every Saturday night. We plan on having entertainment in the lounge,” he said.
Although she is a full-time school counselor, Jessica Hayner will be helping to run the lanes during the evenings. The couple has two youngsters, aged 5 and 2.
Hayner said he has reached out to a couple of people concerning his pro shop business, and he’s got a few interested ball-drillers.
“Of course, this is a big step for us, but I think all of our hard work will pay off,” Hayner said. “Perry Lanes will be back in business and in the forefront of recreation in the city of Johnstown and surrounding areas. We are very interested in becoming the home for all birthday parties in the area. We also will offer a state-of-the-art arcade with plenty of games,” Hayner said.
“And despite rumors to the contrary, we are keeping all 32 lanes open,” he added.
STRIKE & SAVE
Congratulations to Justin Barcomb of Hudson Falls, who continued his outstanding bowling throughout the summer after having a sensational season in several leagues last season, including the Reis Group Kim Brown Memorial City League at Towne Bowling Academy. Barcomb recently teamed up with Jon Wilbur to win his first New England Bowling Association title at a doubles tournament at Yankee Lanes in Keene, New Hampshire. Barcomb also combined with Steven Rock to win his fourth Broadway Lanes Summer Doubles championship and also rolled his 89th perfect game and his 41St 80 triple with an 825 while subbing in the Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center NFL league. Isn’t this the summer off-season?
Rotterdam native Liz Kuhlkin is wrapping up her 2022 PWBA campaign this week in Dallas, Texas in the three-event Dallas Classic series. The Schalmont High School and Nebraska University product finished in a tie for 58thth in the first event this week. She captured her third PWBA title earlier this season on Long Island and is looking to finish up strong with two more events in Dallas to close out the PWBA campaign.
Albany’s Brian LeClair, proprietor of the Revolutions Pro Shop at both Boulevard Bowl and Del Lanes, reached the Advancers Round at this week’s PBA50 Spectrum Lanes Open at the Spectrum Entertainment Complex in Wyoming. He was battling for a spot in match play Thursday.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].
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