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Jason Belmonte races away with 2017 GEICO PBA Player of the Year Award


For the fourth time in the past five seasons, Australia’s Jason Belmonte has been selected by the bowling news media and his fellow competitors as the GEICO Chris Schenkel Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year.

The PBA’s most prized individual achievement award for the 2017 season was announced today by PBA CEO and Commissioner Tom Clark, who also announced that Matt Sanders, an Evansville, Ind., native now living in Indianapolis, is the 2017 Harry Golden PBA Rookie of the Year; Chris Loschetter of Avon, Ohio, is the Steve Nagy PBA Sportsmanship Award winner, and PBA Hall of Famer Del Ballard Jr. of Keller, Texas, is the recipient of PBA’s Tony Reyes Memorial Community Service Award.

All four will receive their awards during the Go Bowling! PBA 60th Anniversary Celebration Dinner and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Indianapolis Marriott North. The entire celebration dinner will be live streamed on PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame.

Belmonte, after becoming the first player in PBA history to win three major championships among his four titles in 2017, was a landslide winner in balloting among his fellow PBA members and veteran bowling writers.

At age 34 he joined Mark Roth as a four-time winner of the award. Walter Ray Williams Jr. is the all-time leader with seven Player of the Year Awards, followed by the late Earl Anthony with six.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be the PBA’s Player of the Year,” Belmonte said. “2017 was a really successful year for me and winning these awards just makes those successes even better. It really motivates me to continue to push myself even harder. I want to thank all the members who voted and also thank the PBA for giving me the opportunity to bowl on the best tour in the world. “

The most successful two-handed player in bowling history led the PBA in earnings ($238,912) and scoring average (a PBA record 229.39 for 380 games bowled), capped his 2017 season with a victory in the PBA World Championship for his ninth career major title after winning the Barbasol PBA Players Championship and an unprecedented fourth United States Bowling Congress Masters title earlier in the season. He also won the inaugural Storm Lucky Larsen Masters in Sweden for his fourth title of the year.

It was a great “comeback” after a less-than-Belmonte-like year in 2016 when he didn’t win a PBA title after winning Player of the Year honors for three consecutive years, but, as Belmonte said, “2016 wasn’t a bad year. It was a bad year on TV because I was letting things get to me, like winning a fourth straight POY.”

Belmonte has pledged to himself that won’t happen again in 2018.

“I don’t want to have that conversation, that I was too busy thinking about Player of the Year to bowl well,” he said. “That’s not going to happen; I’m not going to let myself do that. If another player has a better year than I do, it’s not going to be because I was thinking about end of year awards.”

2017 PBA Rookie of the Year Matt Sanders

Sanders, a 23-year-old left-hander and former two-time All-American with Marion University-Indiana, was the overwhelming choice over one of the strongest fields of rookies in recent PBA history.

He was the only rookie to win a PBA Tour title (in the Xtra Frame Billy Hardwick Memorial Open presented by Chris Hardwick at Billy Hardwick’s All Star Lanes in Memphis, Tenn., in June).<

Sanders qualified ninth for the match play elimination finals of the “throwback” plastic ball tournament, eventually defeating PBA50 Player of the Year Brian LeClair, 243-237, for the title.

He concluded his first season with a fifth-place finish in the PBA World Championship, losing a 10-7 sudden-death roll-off to Kyle Troup after they tied at 248-248 in the opening match of the World Championship finals.

“It’s an honor just to be in the conversation with the bowlers who compete on tour,” Sanders said. “I go into each tournament believing I can win. Sometimes, maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best I can be. I feel that when I’m at my best I can compete with anyone. I just need to relax and do what I do best and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.

“I bowled in 12 tournaments last year and to win one and finish fifth in the World Championship, I’m pretty satisfied with that. I plan to bowl a full schedule in 2018. Now it’s up to me to build on a very satisfying 2017 season and see where that takes me.”

Among PBA rookies in 2017, he was the average (215.84) and earnings ($30,965) leader.

2017 Steve Nagy Sportsmanship Award

Loschetter, a 37-year-old two-time PBA Tour champion, won the PBA’s prestigious sportsmanship honor in voting among his fellow competitors, topping Denmark’s Thomas Larsen and Canada’s Francois Lavoie.

Loschetter, a two-time Junior Team USA member, completed a nine-year quest for his first PBA Tour title in the 2012 Wolf Open in Milwaukee and won his second as a member of the Merica Rooster Illusion team that won the 2016 PBA Team Challenge title in Las Vegas while still in recovery from his personal battle with testicular and abdominal cancer. Loschetter has been a member of the PBA League’s Philadelphia Hitmen since the program’s inception in 2013.

“I mentioned to some of my close friends that it’s nice to be nominated, but I never expect it,” Loschetter said. “It’s very humbling; I’m honored to win it. I think a lot of it is how you treat people, probably more off the lanes and how you behave on the lanes. I think I used to be a bit more emotional but as I’ve grown older, I’ve calmed down.

“The big life change for me was really becoming a father,” he added in regard to how his personality has evolved. “That definitely influenced me in how I want people to look at me. I want to be a good example for my son. Also, the way my parents raised me in church, to treat others the way you’d want to be treated. That made a big impact on me.”

2017 Tony Reyes Memorial Community Service Award

PBA Hall of Famer Del Ballard Jr.‘s life changed immediately, and dramatically, in May 2010 when he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. As Ballard had demonstrated over a PBA career that lasted nearly three decades and included 13 titles, he was a fighter. He wasn’t about to succumb to “The Big C” without a battle.

One evening after a treatment, Ballard, wife Carolyn and a handful of friends got together at Ballard’s house and laid the groundwork for what would become “Ballard Vs. The Big C” – or BVBC for short.

Within three years, their fund-raising bowling tournament raised more than $145,000. As of 2017, Cancer Care Services, Baylor Health Care and the North Texas Laryngectomy Society have received in excess of $300,000 to carry out research on cancer treatments focused on the head, neck and throat.

“I’m really kind of shocked; when Tom (Clark) called, I figured he was going to yell at me for something I did wrong,” said Ballard, who is known for his dry sense of humor.

“It takes a lot of people to do what we’ve done,” he added on a more serious note. “A lot of people support us. It’s a pretty incredible thing. I was telling someone recently that you always want to turn something negative into a positive. At the time (he learned of his cancer) it was a big negative, but we turned it into a big positive.

“We’ll keep at it; my group won’t let me quit. All you have to do is go with me to one doctor’s appointment and you’ll understand why I do what I do. As bad as my experience was, it’s minor compared to what I see others are going through.”

Ballard remains an active member of the PBA Tour as a manufacturer’s representative for Storm Products as well as serving as manager of the PBA League Motown Muscle.

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