Bowling: Local team going strong after 35 years

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By Mike Cote

Reno, Nev., might be the divorce capital of the world, but at least one longevity record — unofficial or no — was added to in that city this year.

Bowling partners Jim Gray of Los Alamos and Ed Bremer of Española made their 35th consecutive appearance this year at the United State Bowling Congress Open Championship, which was held in Reno.

With their appearance in early April, Gray and Bremer officially kept their streak alive as the duo with the longest consecutive streak of playing in the open doubles tournament, a streak which dates back to 1976.

Gray/Bremer threw a 1,074 at National Bowling Stadium in Reno. While it was well off the pace of the team of Jeffrey Mersch/Erik Vermilyea, which finished with a combined 1,507, winning the tournament isn’t nearly as important for the northern New Mexico team as keeping their remarkable streak going.

“It wasn’t stellar for either one of us,” Gray said of their showing at Reno. “I bowled very well the last two games of doubles. I thought that would carry me through the additional brackets when the tournament was over.”

While Gray said he ended rolling slightly better than his lifetime average — he was near a 200 average per game at the tournament while he usually closer to about 175 overall — he said that’s not usually the case when he and Bremer compete at the Open.

The two players met while playing in leagues at the old Tewa Lanes in Española, the precursor to the modern-day Big Rock Lanes, which was built on the same site as Tewa. When it was suggested that the league send some bowlers to the 1976 Open, Gray and Bremer got the idea to join forces.

The 1976 Open was held in Oklahoma City.

Since then, the team has traveled to most corners of the country, including Buffalo, N.Y., St. Louis, Mo., and Tampa, Fla.

One of the things Gray said he likes most about playing in the Open tournaments is the fact he gets to go all around the country to compete.

“When would I have ever gone to Toledo?” Gray said. “We’ve bowled there. We’ve bowled in Memphis, in Louisville, in Boise. We’ve been all over the country.”

That’s why Gray said he and Bremer balked when the USBC was trying to ink a deal earlier this season with Orlando, Fla., which planned to open a big bowling facility that would’ve housed the Open every third year. Reno already hosts the tournament every third year and Gray said the tournament would’ve lost much of its appeal if he was traveling to the same two sites two-thirds of the time.

The streak hasn’t always been easy for the duo, which is one of the reasons its streak is notable.

In 2005, Bremer underwent major knee surgery on both knees just a few months before the 2006 Open, held in Corpus Christi, Texas, that year. It never crossed the mind of either player, however, to skip the tournament and let the streak end.

Unfortunately, as of this year, the USBC doesn’t recognize consecutive doubles appearances by one team as an official category of note, although there is no other known bowling team that has made so many consecutive appearances.

The record for appearances at the Open is 71, which is held by two men, including bowling Hall-of-Famer Joe Norris and Bill Doehrman of Fort Wayne, Ind. Those two men weren’t doubles partners.

Gray said that during his career he’s met countless other bowlers, some famous like Hall-of-Famer Norm Duke and plenty of not-so-famous bowlers, including some good friends of his from Wisconsin that he sees almost annually at the Open and have been bowling against for more than 20 years.

While Gray said he loves the sport of bowling, he realizes its been on the decline since at least the late 1970s, shortly after he and Bremer’s Open streak began.

On a local level, Gray said he used to spend a fair amount of time at the bowling alley at the Community Center. That bowling alley, along with the neighboring High Society Cinema and the diner only about 50 feet away, is now an office building. A bowling alley built in White Rock in the mid 1990s is also now gone.

“It’s still cheap entertainment to a degree,” Gray said of the current state of bowling. “But you don’t see the kids involved with it as much as it used to be…and the idols aren’t there anymore. The Carmen Salvinos, the Dick Webers. They pushed the sport. Now you don’t have that.”