The most impressive bowler I have ever known? BILL LILLARD!



    By John Jowdy

    ColumnistJohnJowdy.jpg In over 65 years in the bowling game, Bill Lillard stands out to me as the most impressive bowler I have seen.

    Left: Author John Jowdy.

    Sounds pretty strange coming from someone who has watched such performers as Don Carter, Dick and Pete Weber, Earl Anthony, Don Johnson, Buddy Bomar, Carmen Salvino, Marshall Holman, Mike Aulby, Mark Roth, Norm Duke, Walter Ray Williams and almost every superstar since the 40's…that is, with the exception of Junie McMahon.

    Interestingly, in conversations with Lillard, the affable Texan often expressed admiration for Don Carter and Junie Mc Mahon as two of his most impressive contemporaries.

    1960sBillLillard.jpg Although Bill Lillard (pictured right in the 1960s) was a PBA charter member, he had but one victory on the PBA tour, the 1966 Miller Beer Championship in Milwaukee. Years ago, the PBA Hall of Fame committee put three one-time winners from the pioneer's category on the PBA ballot.

    One was Lillard, but he failed to garner the required number of votes. Consequently, Lillard may never be inducted in the PBA Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, Bill Lillard was recently selected as one of the Top 20 Bowlers of the 20th Century.

    After winning the All-Star tournament and four titles in the 1956 ABC Championships, Lillard was named Bowler of The Year. As a result, Lillard bowled tournaments, exhibitions, and grand openings as a member of the Falstaff and Budweiser teams and a member of the Brunswick staff. In 1968, Lillard moved to Houston where he has had a very successful career operating bowling centers.

    It was Lillard's brilliant performances in the National All-Star Tournament, now known as the BPAA US Open, and his fantastic American Bowling Congress record that assured him a spot in the ABC Hall of Fame.

    His ABC record includes:

    8 ABC titles

    2007USBCOCBillLillard.jpg Lillard has an ABC/USBC tournament average of 200 for 61 consecutive years. Bill, now 81 years old, continues to compete in this event. His lifetime total of 113,404 pins is second only to Joe Norris, who amassed a total of 123,770 for 71 years.

    Although he never won the ABC Masters, he led the qualifying three times, finished second to Dick Hoover in 1957, and posted an ABC Masters average of 202 for 152 games. Keep in mind that these averages were achieved during times that 200 averages and 700 series earned headlines; an era that an 800 series commanded national attention.

    During his 20 years of competition in the All-Star Tournament, he posted the highest composite average of any and all participants… an incredible 206 for 1,607 games. It must be noted that this tournament featured ONLY 16 finalists instead of 24. Furthermore, champions won with averages ranging from 200 to 208. Here is Lillard's incredible All-Star record:

    He cashed in all 20 All-Star events.

    He made the finals in 14 of the tournaments.

    He won once, finished second twice, third once and fifth twice.

    He also posted averages of 207.16 for All-Star Events (team, doubles).
    He averaged 205.61 for 376 games in the old World Invitational Tournament that was held at McCormick Place in Chicago.

    In reviewing Bill Lillard's resume', impressive is a vast understatement. I call his feats extraordinary.

    Prior to Bill joining Buddy Bomar's bowling juggernaut in Chicago in 1951, my most memorable impressions of Lillard center around the Texas area. He first caught my attention in 1946 in Houston, Texas. Lillard, a 19 year-old Dallas resident and student at Southern Methodist University, drove to Houston to participate in the Charlie Earhardt Memorial Tournament. The tournament drew entries from throughout the southwest and featured bowling stars from miles around.

    Undaunted by the presence of the biggest names in the area, Lillard carted off the title in an almost easy fashion. During this period, and the late 1940's, challenge matches, state tournaments, interstate games, and various competitions flourished in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Louisiana.

    My late, younger brother Frank, one of San Antonio's most proficient match-game performers, issued a challenge to anyone for a singles match. Lillard accepted the call for a tidy sum with no stipulations regarding lane choices.

    Consequently my brother chose lanes 7-8 at Main Bowling Center…a pair of lanes considered his "pie alleys", an affectionate term denoting one's favorite pair. Normally, it was risky business locking horns with Frank on lanes 7 and 8, where Frank seldom experienced any setbacks. But Frank wasn't facing an ordinary bowler. He was facing Bill Lillard!

    The three-game match was a battle of strikes during an era that 190 to 197 averages were league elites. Averages of 200 were almost non-existent at that time, including Lillard, whose highest average in Dallas was 197.

    As expected, Frank crushed the pins for a whopping 768! Lillard fired his final shot of the three-game match, walked over to Frank, shook his hand, and at the same time, collected his winnings with his left hand.

    The impression left on me was that of a super human being bashing the pins to the tune of 803. This total may seem insignificant by today's standards, particularly in view of the record high 700's and 800's night after night. But for then, this was meritorious.

    Callous critics and bumper-bowl jokers that pooh-pooh Lillard's feat cannot appreciate or comprehend the more difficult conditions and the talent required to achieve the score of 803 fashioned by Lillard. It was an artistic performance, finessed on un-doctored lanes.

    Perhaps finessed is misleading to those who construe Lillard's execution as a soft delivery. But nothing could be further from the truth. Bill Lillard possessed one of the most explosive balls in the history of the game.

    More impressive, Lillard used a rubber ball, drilled with a conventional grip. He could hook a ball on ice… going uphill. Bowling on oil was his forte; the more oil, the better. And he did it better than anyone I have ever seen. He had no slide. He braked on his last step and applied incredible rotation on the ball.

    The lane dressing procedures during Lillard's era have practically vanished. The heavy oil dressings separated the men from the boys in that wonderful period of bowling. It was never more evident than the time my San Antonio team drew an 8 a.m. assignment in the ABC tournament.

    The early shift was generally regarded as the death squad, simply due to the fact that early morning shifts were flooded with oil. As a matter of fact, big-name bowlers and teams ALWAYS requested evening shifts, They were granted these times because ABC officials realized that showcasing the bigger stars at later hours would surely attract a greater attendance.

    At any rate, my team consisted of five classic league bowlers, four of whom tossed strong hooking deliveries. Our other bowler, Pete Hauser, relied on a straight ball off the corner. However, the heavy oil on the morning shift negated our normal stances for entry into the pocket.

    We were all forced to move right and point the ball to the pocket. Anything other than a full back-up ball was a morale-booster as oil gushed from the ball track. Five-pins, 8-10's, 5-7's and buckets popped up with regularity throughout the arena…with ONE exception.

    Several lanes away, Bill Lillard stood left of center, swung the ball about three to five boards, and watched his ball drive back into the pocket with thunderous impact.

    "Humbling" was too meek a word to express our feelings. It was downright belittling; transforming would-be bowlers into neophytes suffering from inferiority complexes. Oh, I forgot to mention …Pete Hauser, our straight-ball shooter, NEVER hit the head pin in any of his first six frames; that is, not on the strike ball, nor on the spare ball.

    This was a day of recollection. It was an experience I have never forgotten. It was a day my eyes were fixed on a rare talent; a super-star, a future Hall of Famer.

    "Impressive", according to Webster's Dictionary, is eliciting wonder or admiration. And, in all my years in the game, NO ONE ever elicited my admiration more than the talents exhibited by Bill Lillard during his heyday!

    Contact John Jowdy at [email protected]