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It took the stocky man in the black uniform eternal agonizing moments to lift his bowling ball from the rack along Lane No. 14. As he finally turned to survey the pins through rimless glasses, tiny sweat beads on his forehead glistened like costume jewelry under television lights, and an intense silence enveloped the 2,000 spectators in the Chicago Coliseum.
After nine days of racking competition, this was the ball that could mean victory in the All-Star, symbol of the U.S. Match Game Bowling Championship. The ball that 20 million bowling fans talk about, that 5� million league and club participants dream of, that 5,000 professionals strive for and 160 winners of state eliminations come to Chicago to compete for each year. The ball that only the country's two best bowlers ever get a chance to roll.
For veteran Steve Nagy of Cleveland, the big ball was weighted with more than the championship and its immediate glory and gain (at least $25,000 for his bowling enterprises). It meant restoration of faith in himself. Three times in previous All-Stars he had led the field, only to falter in the final innings. This time, through a series of incredible breaks, he again was in a position to win. At 41, it was almost certainly his last opportunity: only once had a man past that age held the title.
Weary-armed, his calloused thumb badly swollen after bowling 106 and 8/10 games in little more than a week (league bowlers normally roll only 99 competitive games during a nine-month season), Nagy resolutely moved into position. He paused momentarily for a final stationary study of the pins more than 60 feet away. The ball flashed behind his back and then swung forward in a smooth arc as Nagy took his customary four steps. There was the usual muffled reverberation while the ball rolled down the amber alley, then the high-pitched clack of hard-rubber and wood. Down went 10 pins for a strike. Nagy had clinched the title with a frame to spare.
An hour before Nagy's climactic roll, Sylvia Wene, 26 , a roly-poly, doll-like Philadelphia miss of 4 ft. 11 in. and 130 pounds, wrested the U.S. women's crown from a tense and ailing Marion Ladewig in a stunning upset. Mrs. Ladewig, a 40-year-old grandmother from Grand Rapids, Mich., was a tired shadow of the fierce competitor who had won five consecutive All-Stars here, scoring nearly as high—and in 1949 higher—than the winner of the men's division. She came to Chicago 13 pounds below her normal weight of 135. On Saturday, the day before the finale, down to 118, she announced her retirement from future championship competition, "win or lose."
The All-Star, which ranks with the American Bowling Congress championships as the two foremost events of the bowling season, has been compared variously with baseball's World Series, golf's U.S. Open, the Olympic cross-country run, and all three combined. None of these analogies seems accurate, but this claim for it may be true: in no other single sports event do body and mind take such concentrated punishment over so long a period.
Mrs. Ladewig, for instance, in deciding to retire, said: "I start thinking about it a month before the tournament and I get all tight inside. I can't sleep or eat. I'll never roll in the All-Star again, because it takes the fun out of bowling."
The vast majority of the nation's bowlers—from age five to 80—roll for enjoyment. For millions it is a pleasurable way to spend an evening with companions. For others it provides exercise, or even psychotherapy.
But the All-Star is no fun, nor is it meant to be. It is a bruising battle among professionals for high stakes. Originated a quarter-century ago by Louis P. Petersen, a Chicago proprietor who has done as much as any man to promote bowling as a sport—as opposed to a pastime—it was taken over by the Chicago Bowling Proprietors Association in 1941. Since World War II, co-sponsored by the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, it has gained in spectator appeal to the point where the three major wire associations, 40 newspapers and seven magazines sent representatives to the Coliseum. One TV and three radio stations reported the play by play.