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The 11th Frame: Making sure a Hall of Fame is what it should be

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2014 8:00 am

In a few weeks, I will have the honor for the third straight year of serving on the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame Committee.

As much as it’s an honor, it’s also a responsibility — a giant responsibility, in fact.

I don’t think there’s any other way to think about serving on a Hall of Fame committee, whether it’s local, state or national.

I serve on a preliminary committee for the Madison Bowling Association Hall of Fame, and this year served for the first time on the Wisconsin State Bowling Hall of Fame Committee.

In all three cases, I see the responsibility of my role (and the role of any member) as doing everything possible to ensure that deserving candidates are inducted.

The work fortunate folks like myself do is the history we pass on to future generations of bowlers.  

Obviously, there will be honest differences of opinion on some candidates among committee members and voters for any Hall of Fame. Those are understandable and proper.

What should never happen is personal grudges impacting the process.

As one member of a Hall of Fame committee put it regarding a long-time personal adversary he supported: “Everyone knows we can’t stand each other. But he’s a Hall of Famer. I had to vote for him. He deserves to be in.”

That is how you must think as a Hall of Fame committee member and/or voter.

Perhaps the most celebrated personal grudge case is Pete Weber not being inducted into the USBC Hall of Fame on the first ballot, which obviously came from voters who simply didn’t like Pete.

There is ZERO doubt he should have been a unanimous selection on the first ballot and anyone who didn’t vote for him should hang his or her head in shame.

Hall of Fame performance categories are about recognizing Hall of Fame-level  performance, and personality should have nothing to do with it. To me, the only disqualifying factor would be cheating that got a competitor achievements that factor into their Hall of Fame worthiness. 

I also feel the responsibility includes doing everything possible to ensure that deserving candidates aren’t forgotten or passed over for whatever reason.

The most rewarding induction of my time on the USBC Hall of Fame committee has been Frank Santore, who in the 1950s won the all-events Eagle twice — one of only four men to do so — and the singles Eagle once.

Santore almost certainly would have been elected long ago if not for health reasons ending his career before he reached the required 20 years of participation. When medical reasons were enacted as an exception to the 20-year rule and the USBC category was established, Santore finally got his well-deserved opportunity and I felt great voting for him.

Details on Santore are in my blog here.

There may not be many around anymore who remember Santore, who died years ago, but there is something truly satisfying about seeing a deserving candidate inducted.

Our committee last year delved into the case of Fritzie Rahn, who won eight  WIBC Tournament titles from 1927-40 — six in team with a variety of teammates on Albert's Jewelers and two in doubles with different partners — and yet was never elected into the WIBC Hall of Fame. I believe she has the third most women's Eagles in history. Rahn also is not in the Chicagoland USBC Hall of Fame.

USBC staff and committee members have been unable to determine why that was so and the committee had some questions we wanted to seek answers for before we likely consider her candidacy this year.

It isn’t known if she got 20 years, but there apparently was no requirement for 20 years back when she would have been considered for the then-WIBC Hall of Fame. So you can see some of the issues that need to be resolved.

Sometimes factors in the process can cause injustices that resolve themselves over time.  

That has been an issue with the USBC Hall of Fame since the rules were changed in 2009 so many more top touring pros rightly became eligible. The 2009 rule change made a year as a touring pro equal to a year of competition in the USBC Masters/Queens or Open Championships/Women’s Championships for the 20-year participation requirement. This made many superstars, including Mark Roth and Marshall Holman, eligible for the Hall of Fame, and created the current backlog for the men.

I have wanted to vote for all six on my ballot every year since the rule was changed, but the limit is three.

An obvious injustice in this area was Holman, a true all-time great who was not elected until his second year on the ballot. Like Weber, he should have been a unanimous first ballot selection. But when the ballot is full of deserving candidates and the rules don't allow a vote for all of them, some will have to wait.

Knowing the reason and that the process will play itself out and deserving candidates likely will get inducted as the backlog clears makes it tolerable, for lack of a better word.

A similar situation is playing out with the Wisconsin Bowling Hall of Fame, which a few years ago dropped its eligibility from 60 years old to 50.

That created a huge backlog of deserving candidates that won’t be cleared for a few more years.

The Wisconsin committee has done an admirable job of attempting to deal with the situation in a logical manner, with committee chairman Mike Van Domelen reaching out to many for assistance in identifying deserving candidates.

I have helped as much as I could, most notably in helping Mike gather the information necessary for USBC Hall of Famer Darold Meisel, who died in 1994, to be inducted.

I joined the Wisconsin HOF committee this year and was extremely heartened to see how determined committee members were to do the right thing.

Some deserving candidates have not been elected because they either have not been nominated, or their nomination forms have not met the HOF’s policy and procedures. 

My goal is to see that all of Wisconsin’s HOF-deserving bowlers are identified and nominated, and that all nomination forms are upgraded so that there will come a day when we can say that the Wisconsin Bowling Hall of Fame is everything it should be.

I encourage anyone who wants to help us do that to contact myself at riggs7465@frontier.com or Mike at domcorleone66@gmail.com.

One thing no one can do anything about is deserving candidates who for whatever reason don’t want to be considered.

My long-time friend and teammate Gail Myers Jr. is such a case. Gail’s stellar record makes him a lock for the Madison and Wisconsin Halls of Fame — he won’t be eligible for Wisconsin’s until after he turns 50 next year — and a solid candidate for the USBC Hall of Fame in the Outstanding USBC Performance category.

But he so far hasn’t gone through with the nomination forms for any of them, despite my best and repeated efforts to convince him to do so.

One of these years …

Another of my long-time friends and teammates is a case that should serve as an embarrassment for the Greater Milwaukee Bowling Hall of Fame — at least those members who have not voted for him.

John Wittkowske was the anchorman for our Faball Enterprises No. 2 team that won the 1986 ABC Tournament team Eagle — his 679 was second to my 706 as we shot a 3,253 that was then the fourth-highest team series in Regular Division history.

That came a year after we just missed the team all-events Eagle, and John also tied a record when he rolled three straight 2,000 all-events totals with 2,050, 2,026 and 2,046 in 1989-91. He was overlooked for that record in the 1997 record book put out by ABC and WIBC.

John won the State Tournament all-events title with 1,900 in 1983, back when our State Tournament typically was a true grind, and we won the State Tournament doubles in 1991 with 1,434.

He also won at least six Wisconsin Non-Pro Bowlers Alliance titles — those tournaments were similar to PBA Regionals and typically drew big and strong fields — and he was one of the few to win back-to-back Non-Pro titles.

He also won a Milwaukee City doubles title with Bret Faulkner, and the State Match Mixed Doubles with Renee Savannah.       

John also had numerous other high finishes in events such as the State and Milwaukee City tournaments, Non-Pros, State Match Games and Bowling With the Champs, and made match play multiple times at the ABC/USBC Masters.

He hasn’t been a serious tournament bowler for years as he has focused on his family and his job as CFO of Weyco Group Inc., but his resume should have made him a first ballot Hall of Famer in Milwaukee as soon was he was eligible.

That John has not been inducted is a stain on the Greater Milwaukee Hall of Fame — if I was a member of that HOF I would be raising heck to get him inducted and erase that stain.

I will be nominating John for the State Hall of Fame because he definitely is one of the many deserving candidates who has been overlooked.