There’s Always Hope In The Midst Of Tragedy

by Dave Williams

As I was catching up on some past issues of TheBowlingNews.net out of Dallas/Ft. Worth, an article by Mark London caught my eye in his “Just Paying Attention” column. “The 1991 PBA Winter Tour swing had some odd and unique moments never seen before or since,” wrote London. There was John Mazza picking up the 7-10 split, a feat that has proven to be much more rare than rolling a perfect game on television; and there was also Del Ballard’s infamous gutter ball at the Fair Lanes Open, handing Pete Weber the title on a silver platter.

American Recreation Centers Earthquake Relief (1989)

Then a couple of weeks later, Mike Miller of Albuquerque, New Mexico, became the first bowler to win a PBA event without putting his thumb in the ball, a procedure that probably would have had him banned from competition in prior decades. “Two weeks later came a surreal moment as Pete Weber held his U.S. Open trophy aloft, only to see the figurine on the trophy fall off and shatter in the telecast’s final seconds,” London continued.

“But what ended the winter swing was an occurrence even Hollywood could not have assembled. Two minutes into the telecast, we saw a shot of outside Riviera Lanes in Fairlawn, Ohio, and its famed sign above the entrance doors with Schenkel, Bo Burton, and members of the Fairlawn Fire and Police Departments, scouting the building for a bomb threat phoned in to the center minutes before airtime,” said London.

Among the audience camped out in the lot across the street was yours truly, attending my first Tournament of Champions as an executive, rather than a bowler. It was a bizarre moment in my life, marked by the intense irrational behavior of some, but an almost unbelievable calm by the majority in attendance.

As I continued reading London’s column, I thought back to times in my bowling life when I had been in the midst of a tragic event. The first was while stationed in the Pacific Northwest, and working for AMF Bowling Centers in sales and promotion for their locations along Interstate 5 in Washington and Oregon. It was in May of 1980 when Mt. St. Helens literally blew its top, and spewed rock and ash that covered the entire area for weeks.

Everything came to a screeching halt, as driving was virtually impossible due to the darkness and ash that wreaked havoc with vehicle engines. When it rained, as it often does in that part of the country, the drops were like pellets of mud, which further exacerbated the strain on vehicular travel. It was eerily similar to the COVID-19 scare, except that no mandate to shut down was necessary.

Unlike the Mt. St. Helens eruption, which had been sending warning signals for about a month prior to the major eruption, the bomb scare at Riviera Lanes was announced just minutes before the television broadcast. What we learned later from ABC announcer Chris Schenkel was that there was a bomb that had been found and detonated at the previous weeks show in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

Nationwide Bowling Centers Strike Out Terrorism (2001)

The calm that was shared by all of the participants that day at Riviera Lanes was impressive. Even after the news about the bomb detonation at Windsor Locks was revealed from the previous week, their demeanor was unflappable. Amleto Monacelli, David Ozio, Mike Miller, Scott Devers and Chris Warren returned to the building, along with the entire audience! Not even one person left after the 40 minute delay.

Another event which brought a huge amount of hope in the midst of tragedy in my life occurred in 1989, where I had recently assumed the duties of marketing for American Recreation Centers in Sacramento, California. While I was sitting in my office, finishing up a few loose ends for the day and looking forward to getting home to watch the third game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, Comptroller Charlie Helton stuck his head in my office and said there had been a severe earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Because earthquakes are just a way of life in California, like hurricanes on the east coast or tornadoes in the heartland, we really didn’t think much about it and closed up shop. When I got home and turned on the television to watch the World Series, I realized that this was not your average earthquake.

One of the first things that we did from a public relations standpoint was to arrange a fundraiser at all of the American Recreation Centers in California and Texas. We called it “The Bay Area Earthquake Relief Bowlathon.” We dedicated a four hour period at the centers, and all of the bowling receipts were donated to the American Red Cross. Including personal contributions, we raised more than $25,000 for the earthquake relief efforts.

Many years later, an event that would forever change my life occurred while I was working for Nationwide Bowling Corporation in the New York Metropolitan Area. It was a beautiful summer day in September as I was making my 25 mile commute from Edison, New Jersey, towards our corporate headquarters in Jersey City. Suddenly, and without warning, there was a swarm of unmarked cars with sequential infrared lights on their dashboard, passing on both the left and right shoulders of the road.

I remember thinking to myself that there must be a gigantic traffic accident ahead, and I tuned in the radio as I approached the turn for New York City onto the Casiano Memorial Bridge. That’s when I noticed smoke coming from the World Trade Center, as the radio announcer proclaimed that a plane had hit the north tower. Traffic came to a virtual stop, except for the occasional swarm of unmarked cars that continued to travel on the shoulders at high speed.

As I slowly moved toward New York City, the Casiano Bridge eerily pointed my car directly at the twin towers. When I was near the top of the steel arch bridge, a flash of light caught my eye as word came across the radio waves that the second tower had been hit by a different plane. That’s when I realized that the world had forever changed.

The next day we made plans for an event to benefit the American Red Cross. I pulled out the game plan that we had used 12 years earlier in California and Texas, in announcing a “Strike Out Terrorism” fundraiser. Although we originally announced that one-half of the proceeds from our four hour promotion were to be donated to the Red Cross, the owner of Nationwide Bowling Corporation did ultimately donate all of the thousands of dollars that were generated.

I often wonder why I’ve moved so many times in my life, and why those moves have been associated with such catastrophic events as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and acts of terrorism. Whenever I would call my Mom after one of these events, with anxiety in my voice, she would always reply by saying, “Never worry, for God is in control.”

The heart of man develops his way,

But the Lord directs his steps.

-Proverbs 16:9

(Portions of the above story appeared in the January 2020 edition of BCM Magazine, and are reprinted with permission)