Dorin-Ballard: bridesmaid for a career, queen for a year – Striking Out – Carolyn Dorin-Ballard

Dorin-Ballard: bridesmaid for a career, queen for a year – Striking Out – Carolyn Dorin-Ballard – Statistical Data Included

Dick Evans

THREE VETERAN BOWLING writers were eating dinner at Texas Station when Carolyn Dorin-Ballard and her friends arrived for a celebration feast following her dramatic victory in the $100,000 Brunswick Women’s World Open at Suncoast Lanes last November 10.

A lot of diners in the San Lorenzo Italian restaurant gave Dorin-Ballard a second look–she’s so slim and attractive that she looks more like a dancer from a nearby Vegas show than a champion bowler.

“Hi, guys, how about me buying you all a glass of wine?” Carolyn asked with a smile on her face–and a $15,000 check in her purse. Because we were in the final stages of our dinner, we declined the generous drink offer, the last I can remember getting one from a pro bowler since Billy Hardwick won the old National All-Star in 1969.

“OK, guys, but if you are at the Women’s U.S. Open next month in Laughlin [Nevada], I want to buy you a round of drinks,” she said. At that point Joe Lyou, Jim Wyckoff, and this writer raised our hands in unison and said it was a date.

Dorin-Ballard had a date with destiny in 2001. She had been a bridesmaid in the PWBA Player of the Year balloting for four straight years. But she was such a good sport, she even posed in a bridesmaid’s dress in the PWBA national program. I interviewed Carolyn for a story in The Miami Herald before the WIBC Queens Tournament last April in south Florida, and she lamented the fact that such a prestigious tournament was going to launch the 2001 tour because “I’m such a slow starter on tour every year.”

Not in Year 2001. She won the WIBC Queens and continued to win consistently on the PWBA tour. Her victory at Suncoast Lanes was her seventh of the season. But more important to Dorin-Ballard, from an emotional standpoint, the win at Suncoast sewed up her first PWBA Player of the Year award after 12 years on tour. “I’m just on cloud nine,” Dorin-Ballard said after her gut-wrenching 217-210 victory over Lisa Bishop in the semifinal at Suncoast and her spine-tingling 280-258 win over Michelle Feldman in the championship game.

Dorin-Ballard captured the championship through her physical ability to make identical solid-pocket shots frame after frame and her intuition, which prompted her to change Ebonite balls in the 7th frame of the semifinal.

“This has been a very special year for me. I can’t imagine Hollywood writing a better script,” said the former All-American from West Texas State University and current president of the PWBA Players Association.

Those words echoed while she was flushed with the ecstasy of a thrilling victory, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. She remembered what a tough year it had been for her personally:

* She led the PWBA players in a threatened boycott of the BPAA U.S. Open.

* Her father, George, died in August. “I think my father would be so proud of me … I think of him every day.”

* The September 11 terrorist attack came while the tour was in Davie, Fla., and the other players looked to her for guidance on whether they should continue to bowl or go home. They bowled.

And bowl Dorin-Ballard did in 2001. She made an amazing 18 national TV appearances, missing shows only four times. She averaged a tour-high 213.44 on a tough sport condition. But more importantly, she remained just as charming and chic as the four-time bridesmaid. (Just for the record, she has made it to the altar once, marrying Del Ballard Jr., who like his wife is one day headed for Hall of Fame honors.)

Two final things about the PWBA’s first visit to the brand-new Suncoast Lanes. The crowds seemed larger and more enthusiastic than at the tournaments staged at Sam’s Town in recent years. The press room at Suncoast provided the best view of the contestants than any place I can remember. I got a kick out of watching the players’ facial contortions after good and bad shots.

But Carolyn Dorin-Ballard’s face never changed. She just kept smiling all the way to the bank–and to 2001 Player of the Year honors.

Like all American Bowling Congress vice presidents, Tom DeChalus had to wait 10 long years before being named president of the ABC. His installation on May 1 was of historical significance. DeChalus became the first African-American bowler to hold that prestigious position since the organization was formed in 1895.

The retired New York firefighter got four months to enjoy helping chart the future of 1.8 million ABC members before terrorists destroyed his magical year. “I worked 28 years for the New York Fire Department, and I had trained in the World Trade Centers,” says DeChalus, who was named Firefighter of the Year in 1959 and was awarded seven medals of bravery during his esteemed firefighting career.

“The disaster wiped out the cream of the downtown fire department’s force. We lost a few more than we should because the catastrophe happened right at the change of tours. Shifts run from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m., so the firefighters coming to work start reporting about 8:30 a.m. When the alarm comes, everyone responds because that is their nature.”

DeChalus, who also served in the Pacific Theater of operations during World War II, admits he is having trouble thinking about bowling these days. “I have been in a state of depression since September 11,” DeChalus says. “To be honest, worrying about bowling problems doesn’t seem really important in a time of national disaster. At first I just wanted to put back on my uniform and boots and go out and help. I knew some of the young firefighters killed and their fathers. I have stayed away from listening to TV news and reading the obits. It’s just too depressing.”

Bowling itself has been a healthy outlet for DeChalus, who earned a degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree at Michigan State. “I’m not a great bowler. I average only about 168 but I still enjoy the game. I bowl in two leagues and that helps.”

Apparently, bowling is helping a lot of Americans temporarily forget the tragedy because many bowling centers across the country reported increased business just a few days after the attacks.

DeChalus offered a portend about what was going to happen to the single membership issue before word came out from bowling headquarters that the delegates would not vote on the controversial proposal until 2003 (instead of 2002).

“Quite frankly, I have been waiting for the committees to report before making any personal decision,” DeChalus says. “In theory, single membership is what we should look at, but in reality everybody has his or her own turf that they want to protect. I expect great resistance at the local levels. It may not sit well with all our volunteers.

“I haven’t decided in my own mind what is best for the game in the future. Being older, history means a lot to me. The ABC is 106 years old and maybe it needs tweaking, but I frankly don’t know if you need to restructure all of bowling. The women [WIBC] also have a long history and may want to remain and have their own identity. I don’t have a closed mind either way. I guess you could say I’m from Missouri, and you have to show me and prove to me a better way to do business.”

This ABC president makes great sense. He has his hand on the pulse of the bowlers at the grassroots level. And after talking to him not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks, I know for a fact his heart is at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

Too bad the ABC could not make an exception and extend DeChalus’ presidency one year to make sure his reign is not recalled in the same breath with the terrorists’ attacks. He would not agree with that suggestion because his beliefs are rooted in tradition, and according to ABC tradition every president serves only one year.

But in my mind, Tom DeChalus is a special exception.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group