Montana USBC debacle 2.0; clarifying some issues

After reading the blog I posted Monday about my experience and thoughts on the 2014 Montana USBC Open bowling tournament being held in Anaconda, several officials and bowlers weighed in on some misinformation I published. I tried to clear those issues up below.

1. I was given some wrong information about the tournament possibly being split between Star Lanes in Butte and Cedar Park Lanes in Anaconda. It was clarified to me that it was our local association which voted to keep the entire tournament in Anaconda. According to my source, this was done for fear of losing the team event from a fully-functioning center such as Cedar Park and out of respect to their community of bowlers who would be tasked with volunteering during the tournament.

One member I spoke with said they felt an obligation to keep the entire tournament here because they weren’t sure if the state association would see distention and remove the tournament wholly from Anaconda if they voted to split the doubles/singles and team events. Whether that would have happened or not can be up for judgement, I will not speculate one way or the other.

2. The tournament shot. It was clarified to me that five bowlers (I will not mention their names) two left- and three right-handers, tested the shot out at Copper Bowl once it was drawn up. And I’ll fervently attest to the validity of these bowlers’ abilities (all of which I’ve beaten either head-to-head or in a tournament setting many times – sorry, I had to add that!). According to Mark Hodges, he confirmed the shot put out at Copper Bowl was extremely playable when bowled on according to all of the bowlers testing the conditions.

However, what happened from the day they tested the oil pattern and from what has been in play since is a mystery. According to a tournament official, two bowlers rolled a 300 and 278 last Sunday morning at Copper Bowl. Sincerely, good for them! But I will confirm and stake my reputation and ability on the following statement – they didn’t bowl on the same pattern I did 24 hours before. Maybe they didn’t strip all day Saturday. Maybe there was more oil out there from a days full of play. Or just maybe, like myself and a bar full of others witnessed after our 9 a.m. shift Saturday, some lanes were double and triple oiled when the oiler stopped running down the deck once it hit the arrows on Lane 6. No matter the case, some bowlers from the 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. shift bowled on completely different conditions – and I’m not just talking about typical carry down and less head old from non-oil, non-stripped shots. (And that’s what this board-certified competition shot was supposed to be protecting).

Kudos to Mike Evjen, the Montana USBC President, for taking upon himself to take the blame. It appears now, unlike before, the “shit” doesn’t roll downhill. With his response to my post, he clarified certain issues I spoke of intelligently and respectfully.

I would like to add this as food for thought. Because the state has since allowed a tournament director to reap the benefits in terms of payment who doesn’t set foot in the center other than when he/she bowls, where will we be during state tournaments to come? I will tell you right now, Ranie Kelly deserves far more than she’s being compensated. There’s no amount of money, other than the full administration fee the tournament charges, to give her. Nobody in their right mind will take it upon themselves to appoint a member of their local association to run a state tournament ever again if it doesn’t reimburse a tournament manager and/or volunteers accordingly. It’s too much work. So with that being the case, is the Montana USBC going to pay a member of the state board mileage and per diem to run these tournaments from Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Libby or Miles City? What if they decline? Is Tom Brendgord going to travel to these tournaments and run them the way they should be? If that’s the case, if he can’t be at three at the same time with the Open, Women’s and Youth all going on at the same time, does he put the buddy system to work?

All I want to know is how the hell do I sign up for that gig? Or did Roz Gallup just hand it off to her Billings buddy for fear of losing some leverage on the state board?

And actually, that’s probably irresponsible for me to say. I don’t know if they are friends, acquaintances, bed buddies, etc.; but look at it from my point of view. Why does this USBC revolve around Billings? Is that just a false appearance or is it truly the case?

Blame who you want or call me an asshole for giving my opinion, but this tournament system and state board is a mess. For decades, the Montana ABC, WIBC and YABA all chose the best man/woman in their association to run their appointed tournaments. And when guys like Harry Shafer, Bill Meagor and Rich Potvin were in charge of it; they always worked beautifully. Sure, they were compensated nicely, but why wouldn’t they be? Why pay a Tournament Director who sits 250 miles away and basically does clerical duties and damage control instead of keeping all of that money in the local association? And actually, in terms of their compensation, they didn’t make a lot of money. It was a year-long process getting the entry forms ready, certifying averages, collecting money, getting the payouts correct, being their from the first ball to the last every weekend, verifying scores and issuing tough decisions consistent with the rule book. Now, the Tournament Director does far less with the help of a Tournament Manager, yet the state board employee is the one making the bigger payday while the local association takes it in the shorts.

In terms of Potvin, I remember he took it upon himself to buy equipment (balls, shoes, etc.) for youth volunteers, monetarily compensated others and, if I remember correctly, all but paid for the tournament-ending dinner we had after the final games were bowled. The way things are run now, Kelly will be lucky to pay for her food takeout and gas money during the two-month odyssey.  And I know for a fact Meagor did much of the same, if not more.

Evjen said the board wanted to go to more of a “standard condition” for championship tournaments. How can a state like Montana do that, especially in Anaconda where both houses have completely different environments and equipment (lanes)? I understand you want to hold these tournaments accountable for not giving an unfair advantage to the local bowler, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel either. And especially when the handicap is now 95 percent of 235!

We’re basically bowling at 100 percent of our averages, so why not throw down a walled-up house shot to see the scores go through the roof? If your theory of fair play for one and all is truly the case, why not see bowlers leave with a smile on their face and not out of disgust for the game? I guarantee those of you who run leagues put out easy shots for over half of the bowlers who paid good money to come to Anaconda and compete in the state tournament. Ask them if they want a “challenge” when the go to a state tournament or a shot they feel comfortable on bowling with their buddies on week nights.

Or is our state board like other politicians, choosing to do what they feel is best for the tournament instead of asking their constituents? ASK THE BOWLERS WHAT THEY WANT! Despite what you think or what your years of experience tells you, a happy bowler is the only goal you have to achieve. Have the associations put out a shot that’s fair for all levels of abilities and make sure they stay with that same pattern from start to finish. You think local guys like Bill Edwards don’t know how to keep all levels of bowlers happy? He keeps a business afloat when he gets as much open play in a month or more as Missoula gets during a slow Friday night, and he’s competing with another center with six more lanes and 30,000 less people versus Missoula and Deer Lodge counties.

Here’s my advice, in summary. Get rid of this silly tournament director bullshit and give it back to the local associations which keep USBC alive and well. Stop over-thinking the “shot” in houses the board, collectively, has no intimate knowledge of. Keep your associations in check by communicating with their board of directors (which it appears you, Mr. Evjen, are doing a fine job with in your position).

Oh, and stop referring to bowling as a sport because the dudes and gals on ESPN tell you to. Anything you can do better while drinking/competing cannot be considered a sport (unless you’re a fan of San Francisco 49ers defensive linemen).



Montana USBC tournament, Board of Directors; it’s time to do some ‘splanin’

Montana bowlers beware! This may not be what you want to read. Hopefully it either calms your nerves or prepares you for your impending trip to Anaconda in the next few weeks.

The incessant meddling, tinkering, toying and what I believe to be the ultimate demise of a great two-month event for Anaconda businesses was my take from my first experience in the Montana USBC State Open Bowling Tournament over the weekend.

And wow, I can’t wait to get started recapping that nightmare.

First of all, shame on the members of the board of directors, most notably USBC tournament director Tom Brendgord, for not fully accepting their duties of governing the biggest event in bowling for Montana kegglers. Collectively, you have put a black eye on Anaconda unfairly, and probably sealed the fate for the state tournament ever happening here again.

Let’s get the record straight, I knew right off the bat I wasn’t going to bowl well. I’ve thrown maybe 20 games in three years since taking a sabbatical from bowling to raise my children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the game better than most. I’m a 218 average bowler, thrown my fair share of honor scores, worked in the industry while attending college in Missoula at Liberty Lanes under Troy Haninnen, served on our local USBC board and ran a state juniors tournament in Anaconda. Ironically enough, after dealing with people intimately in Billings during that state juniors tourney, I stepped down from any and all dealings with the organization other than being a card-carrying member in good standing. Why? Because one thing I’ve realized while dealing with those people: the shit always ran downhill no matter the issue.

I’ll detail the issues I have with the tournament one by one.

1.  The shot.

What the hell were you thinking putting out an identically-specialized shot knowing that each house in play were as similar as black and white? Copper City, as you should have known before even sending out the entry forms for the Open, has wooden lanes so in need of repair (they haven’t been resurfaced since 2002 – and full disclosure, former owners were told the lanes could not be resurfaced any more IN 2002!) I don’t think they would burn if put to a flame. The heads are so burned up and exposed, all the oil is gone by the time warm ups are over. That wouldn’t be a problem if the pattern would carry down like most bowlers are accustomed to. Because the lanes are in such disarray, the oil is absorbed by the heads and evaporated into the porous surface so quickly it’s like pouring it down a drain.

Yet, Brendgord called for a universal pattern for both houses on old, unmaintained wooden lanes at Copper City and a synthetic surface at Cedar Park. This, my fellow USBC brethren, is where your membership dollars are going. Two weeks before the tournament, it was relayed back to Brendgord the shot wasn’t going to be popular with Montana’s typical median-to-low average bowlers after being tested out by over 10, 200-plus average players at Cedar Park. Luckily, we have board members like Mark Hodges who understands what the state tournament should be about (having a shot that the low to high average bowlers can have fun and score with). The shot was altered slightly and, I will tell you from bowling on it Saturday, is very fair – at Cedar Park, that is. Copper City is just a joke.

I’m a lefty with an above-average hand and solid velocity. I was the only one on our pair. My balls of choice were an Evolution Pro (scrapped by the end of practice) and a Columbia Spirit – a ball I drilled in Missoula in 1998. I averaged 164 with a high game of 189. Granted, I didn’t expect much in the first place having to go in scratch, but I at least wanted to have a good time with some friends I don’t get to hang out with much anymore. But realistically, who can have fun on that?

As a rule, I had to move – as a lefty, mind you – at least every fourth shot. That’s if I hit my mark every ball, which wasn’t the case. Now think of what the righty’s had to go through. Every ball they threw reacted differently. There was no strategy to the game, just a wing-it and pray mentality.

I’ll detail my setup from the first practice ball. I started standing 30 and looking 12-14. The first ball off my hand since the city tournament in February had a little to do with it too, but I hit the 3-pin going away hard. I threw harder hitting my mark, the same happened. I took hand out of the ball, it nosed through the head pin. I moved outside. I stood 15 and hit five. Same result. No matter what I did, no matter what I used, as soon as my ball hit the heads it was reading the lanes. Forget about building a shot or pattern, it was useless. In fact I would have started lobbing the heads if I was sure my ball wouldn’t have ended up in the basement. My only saving grace was knowing full well, after hearing the horror stories from the previous weeks accompanied with my already intimate knowledge of the bowling center, I was doomed from the get go. But then again, so was everyone else.  

My doubles partner John Hall, a state Hall of Fame member, finally had to quit in the fifth game as his hand and knee were nearly shot from having to throw so hard, lofting the ground up heads and sliding on very tacky approaches. Sure he’s in increasing age, but he can still throw a ball fairly well averaging 208 coming in to the tournament.

Bowlers like Hall are who we’re supposed to be protecting and thinking of during the state tournament. If we aren’t looking after the longevity of the game, promoting it from the youth ranks and making sure the playability and fairness of it coincide, why even have the tournament, or sanctioned leagues for that matter?

2. Having a tournament director not located in the city is a bad idea.

Brendgord should have already known all of this, yet our state board though this was the correct way to run these tournaments? When Rich Potvin ran the state tournament in Anaconda years ago, he knew. He had everything in control: the shot, the volunteers, the house owners – everything. Now, good people like Rainey Kelly, our association member designated as the on-site Tournament Manager, get to take the wrath of bowlers who entered this tournament thinking it was governed by a knowledgeable, coherent, caring director.

I remember dealing with certain bowlers who care to blame the facility, lanes, etc. instead of themselves on bad tournaments or outcomes. To say they are assholes is a disservice to all assholes out there. It just so happens now those assholes have a pretty good case (the same they did when Great Falls made us bowl at Pin N Cue and the illustrious lane with a ramp) and Kelly along with employees at the centers just trying to do their jobs are getting the brunt.

There are accounts of bowlers getting moved two and three times during a doubles/singles set due to overheating motors and other mechanical malfunctions. On Saturday, a guy next to us bowled out of turn and there were no employees who knew how to fix the error and get the arrows on the correct bowler. Again, is it their fault if they weren’t trained to help? No. That falls directly on the Copper City ownership. I will say the beer was cold, even if after my fourth I had to wait for a beer run to Albertson’s for another.

Last week, the ownership took out an ad in the local paper saying, among other things, Copper City was there to stay despite the rumors the doors would close after the tournament was completed – thus raking in the $9.30/bowler per event in lineage (already $4,929 not counting last week with still four weeks to go). Put it this way, to bring it up to respectability in order for the state to even consider bringing the tournament back to Anaconda again, it will be some sort of hefty financial commitment when there are currently only two competitive, USBC sanctioned leagues competing in the house (reportedly less than 20 bowlers per league). To make a conservative estimate, knowing the scoring systems, machinery, lane beds, approaches and gutters all need work, nothing short of $750,000 would make the place playable.

3. Bowling in small houses/towns can be done.

It’s simple, teams from Rudyard, Miles City, Missoula, Billings, Great Falls and Kalispell love bowling in Anaconda. It’s not often they get the opportunity to come to small towns and smaller houses to compete in a state bowling tournament, and I know our town has been hospitable to those who’ve traveled here. But nobody is going to come all the way to Anaconda to bowl on a terrible shot or on terrible conditions.

First, keep it simple stupid. Even the USGA has begun to see the errors of their ways over the years. They are making golf more inviting for the everyday player recognizing that they are the lifeblood of their game and not the low handicapper or touring pro. It’s the same with bowling. Because the average/handicap of the tournament is now a ridiculous 95 percent of 235, everyone in on the same playing field. So why throw out a shot that takes some ingenuity and additional equipment? If it’s selling merchandise in pro shops the tournament is after, well it’s working.

My thoughts are this: Why not just throw out a flat oil shot and let the bowlers dictate where it goes from there? Forget what you’re seeing on TV with the PBA; not only do most of the houses in Montana not have the capability to put out a shot like the specialized patterns bowled on by the pros, but many of the surfaces can’t hold it. With Copper City’s wood lanes the oil won’t carry down, instead it flares out and evaporates into the surface. At Cedar Park, that oil carries down the deck like it’s supposed to, but it also affixes itself to the rollers and ball returns. Over time, that increased accumulation takes a helluva toll on the older equipment, thus making it tougher for guys like Bill Edwards at Cedar Park to prepare and maintain such a long, sustained tournament with equipment malfunctions, repairs and cost overruns associated with the increased usage.

Then again, maybe this is what the big houses and cities want. Kicking Anaconda out of the rotation would make it better financially for Missoula, Great Falls, Helena, Butte and Billings because they get either the Open, Women’s or Youth tournaments a year sooner. If this is the case, even if it’s not spoken about in public, it’s a shame. We should leave politics out of our game and let the members speak.

Unfortunately, letting the members speak after this tournament will be a shame. So many bowlers are going to be upset about having to spend a weekend in Anaconda to compete on lanes like Copper City they are bound to shun us here. That’s why I felt it necessary to speak on Anaconda’s behalf.

If this tournament were run by our local association, doubles/singles would have been held at Star Lanes in Butte and the team even here in Anaconda at Cedar Park. Our association knew the facilities were inadequate to host a high level, quality tournament, yet the power that be refused to listen.

Like always, I’ll be the kicking post for Anaconda. As a board you can feel free to comment on your logic, call me a bitter ass who is just mad they didn’t perform well or try to dignify your decision to not listen to information you were being told since September. I know most of the board members, if only by name, from my time in bowling over the years, and I apologize if I’ve offended you. There are some good people who truly want what’s best for bowling serving their districts, but those who chose to turn a blind eye and leave it up to a tournament director located 250 miles to conduct our state tournament is either incompetent or in need of a wakeup call.

 Maybe this blog did just that.

Welcome to Anaconda bowlers, don’t hate the player or the game. Hate the clowns responsible for ruining what many saved-up and planned for since the second they finished the 2013 Open tournament.

Food for thought on the travel issue with Anaconda moving to Class B

There’s been plenty of data kicked around about the financial burden moving to Class B may put on Anaconda in terms of travel expenses. But in my findings, that’s just not the case.

I did a mock up schedule for football, volleyball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ tennis and boys’ and girls’ golf, and it shows we can be lower in terms of mileage – in some cases significantly – and at no worse equal across the board when it comes down to it.

Regional scheduling is the key. If were to be put in the same conference as Missoula Loyola, Florence, Ronan, St. Ignatius and Deer Lodge, we have same level competition in non conference games available with short distance trips to Whitehall, Boulder, Townsend, Three Forks and even Manhattan.

Football, volleyball and boys’ and girls’ basketball and tennis travel becomes significantly less while boys’ and girls’ golf and softball would increase in the hypothetical scheduling. Wrestling, track and field and cross country won’t be much different due to the mixer style of events they already participate in.

One concern may be divisional and state tournaments, but I don’t think that’s fair to consider because success should be judged on a season-by-season basis. Girls’ basketball made the state tournament for the first time in three years this season, boys’ basketball hasn’t reached state since 2005, the Copperhead volleyball team hasn’t advanced to state since 2009 and the football team has made the state playoffs twice since 1995.

What I hate most about these numbers is seeing golf, one of the most successful programs over the years, having to move seasons. Head coach Mark Torney has worked his ass off with offseason practice schedules, even giving free lessons, and will now have to restructure his program if the change is made. But being the standup individual he is, he agreed he wants to do what’s in the best interest of all the kids of Anaconda. Although his program may see a decline with the spring scheduling, he’s still looking out for the best for AHS. Now that’s the sign of a great mentor and coach.

I love the competition in Class A. But I think it’s best we look at moving down to our rightful place in Class B. The numbers in terms of enrollment just aren’t up to par with schools in our division or conference.

Here’s a mock schedule which features regional scheduling.

mock schedule workup

My thoughts on Anaconda moving to Class B

On Monday, head coaches representing every Anaconda High sport met with AHS principal Paul Furthmyre, AD and vice Principal Shawn Hansen, SD10 Superintendent Dr. Tom Darnell and the board of trustees in order to consider a motion by Montana High School Association requesting the school to move to Class B. The move would take effect in the 2015-16 school year.

I reported on the meeting at (click here for the article) but it’s no secret I think the school should consider moving to the lower classification for a number of reasons.

1), It’s time. We are competing against bigger school in the Southwestern A, and the only reason we aren’t as bad off in terms of numbers against the majority of schools is because the likes of Hamilton, Corvallis and Stevensville are fielding huge soccer and cross country teams (currently, Dillon, Anaconda and Butte Central are among the minority in Class A who do not offer soccer for either boys or girls). According to AHS head football coach Bob Orrino, we have approximately 30 kids out for football each year. I can confirm Dillon had nearly 60 on their JV-Varsity teams last year, not counting members of the freshmen team numbering similar to Anaconda’s entire program.

2), We need to stop fooling ourselves. Forget the recent successes we’ve had in the classification, those are on a case by case basis. Our girls’ basketball and volleyball teams from 2006-2011 were an anomaly. Sure they were among the best teams in the state regardless of classification, but so was Fairfield this year after completing a 105-game winning streak. Could they continuously compete against teams of larger enrollment? Possibly. But that success couldn’t be sustained.

3), I’m one of the biggest supporters of Copperhead athletics and love where we play. The SW-A has some great administration and coaching staffs, including our own. With that being said, it’s just not fair to our kids to keep fooling ourselves. We need to move to where our school can compete on a level playing field AS A WHOLE and not by using a case-by-case basis.

I will say I loved the passion by each coach stating their individual cases on Monday night. All were respectful of one another and expressed their own concerns in a civil, professional manner. I wish all of the issues hitting our school board could be conducted the same way. There’s passion, then there’s misguided anger.

I probably shouldn’t have even been at the meeting, but again I felt it necessary to say my peace. And I appreciate the coaches for bearing with what I had to say.

Being a numbers guy, I though it necessary to compare Anaconda to one of the two recent former Class A teams which dropped down to Class B due to the same concerns we are having. I used Bigfork as that model. Here’s what I found.

One of the last teams to move from Class A to Class B was Bigfork in 2009-10. But their collective downfall across the board was seen for years. Sure they had some individual success, but their team records were always at or near the bottom of the Northwestern A. They were competing with schools which had almost twice their enrollment, and although there were scattered wins here and there, sustained success was not realistically attainable.

In the case of football, Anaconda and Bigfork last met in Anaconda during the 2005-06 season. Anaconda, a 3-5 football team that year, beat Bigfork 21-7. The Vikings finished 1-7 overall that year, then went winless over the next three years with 0-7, 0-8 and 0-8 records before moving to their rightful classification. In 2009-10, the football team went a respectable 4-4, and immediately rebounded from embarrassing 30 and 40 point losses to division rivals. In 08-09, Bigfork was outscored 46.5 to 11.3. The year they moved, their scoring and defense improved dramatically. Although they still allowed 36.8 ppg, they also scored 24.9 ppg.

Then in 2010-11, they went 10-2 and won the Class B state championship. Four years leading up to their move they went 1-30. Five years since, 41-13. And that’s just in football.

In basketball, it was much of the same. The four year prior to the move the team recorded a 16-61 mark with the best record being 7-13 in 2005-06. Since, they’ve advanced to three state tournaments and placed twice going 98-24 over that span including a perfect 26-0 record and Class B state championship this season.

Anaconda is almost identical to the tough choice Bigfork made moving down a classification, but you can see what happens when a school plays against other schools of like enrollment.

Even if the goal isn’t to succeed like Bigfork has, it should be at least to give our student-athletes the opportunity to compete at a level comparable to their competition. Winning on the playing field breeds winning in the classroom. Like Shawn Hansen has always said, when the student athletes are competing at a high level outside of the classroom, his problems in terms of discipline, absenteeism and tardiness reduce significantly.

You thing Bigfork isn’t loving life competing against their level of enrollment and not against the like of Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Polson? Think again. Here’s a nice article speaking to their moving from The Flathead Beacon (click here to read the story).

Some against the move say the competition isn’t as good. I don’t agree. Sure, the crop of competition is lower due to the lower enrollments and larger amount of schools competing in the Class B (currently at 40), but when you get down to the final 8-10 teams, those squads, whether it any specific sport, would wipe the walls with teams one or two classifications higher on any given year.

What does change in lowering the classification is the sustainability of the programs. In Class AA or A, bigger class sizes allow for the ability to have more athletes to sustain success. In Class B or C, that probability lowers significantly. Sure there are some collectively better than others, but that goes back to the quality of life in each school district.

Unfortunately, our population is made up mostly of poverty level kids dealing with some tough childhood situations. Anaconda is tough, but even we have had some uphill battles with getting back on our feet from the Smelter closure. But we do what we can and offer some pretty amazing opportunities in terms of quality education and recreation. So why not level the playing field for our kids and coaches? Pit them against like enrollments in order to give us that ability to sustain a program? Why can’t we be the big fish, why must we always try to overachieve?

In terms of academic-athletic opportunities (now I just did football because it’s the easiest to track) for our students, football is very kind to small schools in Montana. I searched back four years in the Frontier and Big Sky Conference schools Montana and Montana State (last year and their recruiting classes this year), and the results are very encouraging.

Many will say the lower the classification, the harder it will be for our student-athletes to receive scholarships. However that just isn’t the case. Thanks to social media, collegiate coaches are more in tune with the smaller school now that ever.

Looking back at just football from the past four years, over approximately 869 players hailing from Montana were on Frontier rosters, and this doesn’t include Dickinson State (except for last year) or Jamestown College in North Dakota which loads up on small school athletes from eastern Montana. Of this 869, 319 came from schools from the Class B or C ranks. So in other words, 37 percent of all football players in Montana that go on to play college football in the Frontier Conference hail from Class B or C.

In terms of Montana and Montana State the ratio goes down slightly but is still significant. Last year, Montana had 26 locals on their roster with 2 players from small school. Montana State had 39 and 10. So 19 percent of all Montana football players at the Division I level are from smaller schools.

Lower the school into its correct classification won’t hurt their ability to earn a scholarship or even play at the next level in the least.

Being smaller doesn’t mean being worse. Let’s get that through our heads right off the bat. As soon as we can get that stigma out of our lexicon the sooner we can get back to a level playing field for our entire school district, not just on a case by case basis.

We’re all in this together, let’s hope we all make the right choice.

The School Board will vote on the issue on Wednesday night, if you have some input I advise you to attend no matter where you stand on the issue.