Published: May 1, 2016 | Bowl.com
RENO, Nev. – Above all else, Frank Clay is a bowling fan.
He has bowled with and against some of the most notable bowlers in history, but he also has taken the time to just sit back and watch how effortless the best can make the game look.
But, at the National Bowling Stadium on Saturday night, all eyes were on Clay, and he was the one shaking hands and signing autographs after becoming the latest member of the 100,000-Pin Club at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.
Nearly 300 fellow bowlers, friends, family and guests looked on as Clay glided down Center Aisle for the 62nd consecutive time, needing just 385 pins to become the 18th bowler in 113 years of USBC Open Championships history to reach the milestone.
His own family members walked the concourse with a dry erase board to keep everyone informed as he chiseled away at that magic number, and with a nine-count in the seventh frame of his third game, Clay added his name to record book alongside many of the bowlers he admired over the years.
“This is a dream come true, and something that became my goal after my 50th tournament,” said Clay, who made his Open Championships debut at the 1955 event in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the hometown of the first member of the 100,000-Pin Club, USBC Hall of Famer Bill Doehrman. “When I first started bowling in this 62 years ago, I never imagined I’d be getting something like this.”
Clay was joined at the NBS by his wife of almost 60 years, Janet, their three children, son-in-law, two daughters-in-law, one grandchild and his nephew and nieces, and Saturday’s milestone marked his third memorable moment at the Taj Mahal of Tenpins.
The 85-year-old right-hander made his 50th tournament appearance at the NBS in 2004, and he celebrated six decades of Open Championships competition in The Biggest Little City in the World in 2014.
Neither of those experiences helped control the nerves this time around, however, as Clay stepped onto the approach to lane 13 at the NBS needing just two more pins to push him past 100,000.
“I was actually shaking more there than when I was going for a 300 game, but somehow I threw the ball pretty well,” said Clay, who had games of 157, 129 and 182 for a 468 series in the team event Saturday night. “I was nervous and let the adrenaline get to me instead of just relaxing, but it’s very exciting to now be on that list. It’s also very humbling to be one of just 18 bowlers to accomplish this.”
Clay also is one of only 20 bowlers in tournament history who have competed 60 or more times, and his family is trying to help him lock in one additional goal, along with adding to his pinfall total.
“They keep telling me I have to go for 72,” Clay said. “I wouldn’t mind going for that. It has been a lot of fun. Bowling was always my passion, and I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve enjoyed all of the camaraderie and traveling to all the different cities. I’m thankful to have been healthy enough to do this, and I’m grateful for my family being there for all my bowling endeavors over the years.”
Clay finished is 62nd Open Championships campaign with 448 doubles and 422 in singles for a 1,338 all-events total. In his career, he has knocked down 100,953 pins for a career average of 180.9.
USBC Hall of Famer and eight-time Open Championships titlist Bill Lillard Sr. of Houston tops the all-time pinfall list with 124,087, while Doehrman, fellow USBC Hall of Famer Joe Norris and active competitor Sylvester Thiel of Lake City, Minnesota, share the event’s participation record with 71 appearances on the biggest stage in bowling.
Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open/Women’s Championships page.