by Dave Williams
This month’s issue of Bowlers Journal International contains a two page article by Dennis Bergendorf about The National Bowling Association (TNBA), and their rebound from the uncertain reported illnesses of the COVID-19 virus that have affected every bowling organization around the globe to some degree. But the association, once known as The National Negro Bowling Association, is up and running once again according to Bergendorf, with Bill Rhodman Classic Tournaments being held in Canton, Michigan, and Smyrna, Tennessee during the past couple of months.
The National Bowling Association is rich in history, as Bergendorf outlines in his article:
“TNBA was formed in 1939 as The National Negro Bowling Association, an alternative for blacks that wanted to bowl sanctioned, well run competition. The American Bowling Congress (ABC) and Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) were only open to caucasians at the time. They changed their name to TNBA in 1944 but continued the fight to fully integrate the sport of bowling.”
Mr. Bergendorf goes on to reveal that the mission of TNBA was accomplished in 1951, when the national governing body of ABC opened their doors to all races. It’s interesting to note that since their founding, TNBA has always been open to anyone, a fact that was brought to my attention by James Alston, National Tournament Director for TNBA, during my tenure with AMF Bowling Centers.
Mr. Alston would contact me often, perhaps at the coaxing of fellow AMF director Jack Graziano (an honorary life member of TNBA), to bid on their national tournament. It was a difficult balancing act, because AMF executives were always interested in maintaining the highest price per game in a particular market, but at the same time I realized the value of the tournament when factoring in the food and beverage aspects of the event.
It all came to a fever pitch when John Weber, son of bowling great Dick Weber and AMF’s Bowling Activities Representative for the midwest United States, was interested in hosting TNBA’s national tournament at AMF Dick Weber Lanes in St. Louis. John felt that in order to secure the event he would need to quote a price of 50 cents per game, and that was something that didn’t sit too well with AMF’s senior officials in Westbury.
John decided to get some figures together that would highlight the potential food and beverage revenue from the event, in addition to the lineage revenue. While it was important for AMF to show the benefits of computerized scoring to increase pricing, John was able to show how it was difficult to take “price per game” to the bank. Somehow he convinced the AMF hierarchy, and we were successful in securing the tournament. Incidentally, the revenue achieved was well beyond our calculations!
“We surprise everyone with our food and beverage revenues,” states Dewann Clark, President of TNBA. “On average, we generate $1,000,000 in revenue to a local economy per 1,000 attendees. That’s one of the highest ratios of any national tournament.” Clark, who grew up in Los Angeles and began bowling at Midtown Lanes, now resides in Las Vegas, but the national headquarters for TNBA is in Cincinnati, Ohio.
When our conversation got around to the Bill Rhodman Classic Tournaments, I mentioned some of the previous articles that I had penned about Ted Rebain, Bill Rhodman and the High Five (the most recent was earlier this year, Another Visit With Ted Rebain, in which I outlined Ted’s involvement in helping to break the caucasian only bowling barrier, along with his father, at Detroit’s State Fair Recreation, a 70 lane bowling center with pinboys).
In an article from the Detroit Free Press (February 24, 1990), Ernest Wallace of the Paradise Bowl Old Timers Club remembered Ted Rebain from State Fair Recreation. “Ted and his father were among just a few proprietors who helped open doors. They operated the big Motorbowl tournament at State Fair and invited us to join,” Wallace said.
A group of black investors, headed up by professional boxer Joe Louis, opened the Paradise Bowl in 1942, according to Wallace. “It was really a special place, and became the mecca of black bowlers and the standard by which they measured other bowling centers.” Paradise lasted until 1960, when the roof collapsed during a snowstorm. It was never rebuilt, but remained such a major part of black bowling history in Detroit, that in 1984 Wallace and several others formed the Paradise Bowl Old Timers Club, as stated in the article.
Eddie Page, another veteran bowler from Detroit, remembers Paradise as a special place as well. “It was one of the nicest bowling alleys. The basement had a locker room with showers and everything. And there was a lot of space behind the lanes so that when they had a tournament or exhibition, they could set up bleachers.”
When I asked about Mr. Alston, Clark informed me that he unfortunately passed away last year at the ripe old age of 93. James was a resident of Richardson, Texas, where I remember sending many proposals for the national TNBA tournament whenever there was an AMF center within a reasonable distance. Ted Rebain also passed away last year at the age of 90, and thankfully both gentlemen died peacefully at an old age, and not at the hands of the uncertainty surrounding reported COVID-19 illnesses.