Ozio, High Roller, make their mark in Las Vegas

    02/05/05

    Column

    By Dick Evans

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpgThe High Roller megabuck bowling tournament has come to mean many things to many people over the past 24 years. For David Ozio, named Rookie of the Year on the PBA Senior Tour last year, it meant a thrilling finals victory over Jason Belmonte, reigning international amateur of the year, in the championship match Thursday and a $21,000 check.

    "If there is a better word than ecstatic to describe my feeling right now, I can't think of it right now," said the 50-year-old PBA Hall of Fame bowler." For founder Norm Edelman and son Brad it has become a way of life as they eventually moved their families from New Jersey to Vegas - world recognized as the gambling and bowling Mecca of the world.

    The Edelmans, the Professional Bowlers Association and the old Showboat Hotel/Casino/Bowling center all played paramount roles in establishing Vegas' world wide bowling appeal back in the early 1980s. Little wonder that bowlers from 11 nations and every state make a pilgrimage to Vegas.

    "When we first came to Vegas back in 1982 we were the only amateur tournament in town," Norm Edelman said Thursday during the High Roller A Game Tournament at Sam's Town - the permanent home of High Roller tournaments five times a year.

    "We really like the facilities here at Sam's Town, this is a first class operation from the hotel to the casino to the restaurants to the bowling center. But it is a smaller bowling center (56 lanes) compared to the old Showboat (106 lanes) so it requires a lot more time to get in all of our games."

    Back in the early 1990s it wasn't unusual for the High Roller to draw 1,200 plus amateur bowlers from across the world who were eager to put up $1,000 for a shot at making $200,000. But that was before the introduction of the Mini-Eliminator at The Orleans and the TAT event at Texas Station.

    Now, instead of staying at the host hotel and spending their free time gambling in the casino or entering side tournaments the thousands and thousands of amateur bowlers who flock to Vegas at least three times a year to Vegas are jumping in cars and rushing from one side of this sprawling city to another in order to compete in all three events.

    From the standpoint of a local resident who enjoys watching great bowling competition this may be the best of all worlds. Dick Ruckard, a retired Master Sgt. After 24 years in the Air Force, these tournaments enable him to renew some friendships.

    Ruckard was an active bowler at the old Homestead Air Force base back in 1972-76 and now bowls in five leagues a week at three Vegas bowling centers. He has been at Sam's Town several times this week watching great pro champions like John Petraglia, Ernie Schlegel, Wayne Webb and Ozio, who admitted he surprised himself with his outstanding pressurize bowling.

    "I don't think my heart has ever beat harder during a match than today's finals. Maybe it's because I'm no longer a competitive pro bowler. Now I have a fantastic job with the Dexter Shoe Company."

    Friday he goes back to his old life and you can be sure his latest bowling trophy will be on display at the Dexter shoe booth at Sam's Town during next week's regular High Roller Tournament.

    Over the years some of the bowlers making a big name for themselves - Chris Barnes, Pat Healey, Brad Angelo and Robert Smith for example - became battled tested in High Roller competition. Matter of fact, Healey and Angelo were two of the top 10 all-time money winners in High Roller tournaments before joining the PBA.

    Then there are bowlers like Jason Belmonte, the man the World Bowling Writers named the top amateur bowler in 2004. Or how about this international field at the top of the early standings - No. 1 Mario Quintero of Mexico, No. 2 Or Aviram of Israel and No. 3 Arturo Quintero of Mexico.

    When was the last time you can remember two brothers bowling so great? It well could be a first in Mexican bowling history. Also competing was Jeremy Sonnenfeld, who bowls out of Sioux Falls, S.D. In case you forgot, Jeremy bowled the first 300-300-300-900 approved by the American Bowling Congress in 1997.

    And how about Craig Auerbach, who was an average-to-good junior bowler in Miami who has matured into one of the elite amateur megabuck tournament bowlers in the world? In one of the many side events, Auerbach carded a 749 three-game score and won $3,500 leading up to the High Roller A Game Tournament.

    The bowler from Sunrise, Fla., proved that was no fluke by leading the qualifying in the 40-49 age category with a 660 score. Three women pros who are praying that either the USBC and BPAA will come up with a tour - Tish Johnson, Liz Johnson and Kelly Kulick - entered.

    Although Tish Johnson had won several old PWBA titles on the Sam's Town lanes, it was young Kelly Kulick who came through with the most impressive performance showing that she can hold her own again any rival. Kelly won a high game award in a preliminary event and then advanced early Thursday to advance to the quarterfinal round.

    Although Norm Edelman is now unofficially retired and son Brad is the affable president and workhorse of the High Roller tournaments, it was Norm who made a few predictions:
    1. Although the entry of 96 was disappointing, he promised that the "A Game" is open to pro bowlers not currently on the exempt PBA tour will return next year.
    2. Some special fireworks will be added for the 25th anniversary tournaments in 2006.
    3. A new concept event for recruiters will be announced this winter that will feature $60 entry fees.

    This writer has to believe that the keen competition among the three current megabuck organizations in operation across Vegas is benefiting the contestants in more ways than one. There is nothing like competition to keep a bowling organization on their toes at all times.