LPBT veterans know well that gutter helpless feeling

April 23, 1991|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Sun Staff Correspondent

ADELPHI -- When Del Ballard Jr. threw his infamous 10th-frame gutter ball on national television that cost him a Professional Bowlers Association tournament championship at Kings Point Fair Lanes in Randallstown on March 2, he rolled his way into the hearts of pro and amateur bowlers everywhere.

"My heart just dropped," said Sharon Todd, a three-year member of the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour, which is making a stop at Fair Lanes University this week. "It was heartbreaking. I've bowled doubles with him before, and it hurt me to see it happen. He threw the two shots he needed in the 10th [strikes], and then he didn't even give himself a chance to get the seven pins to win the tournament."

Todd, like most pro bowlers, has experienced the sinking feeling of a gutter or "channel" ball, as they call it on the tour.

But she never has had the embarrassment of rolling one on the national television finals in five appearances.

"I've had two in match play and probably six overall," said Todd, 23, from Bowling Green, Ky. "It doesn't hurt so much if it doesn't cost you a title or a chance to qualify. But it's something you never want to happen. There's a few bowlers out here I wouldn't talk to after they throw one [gutter ball]."

The mere mention of Ballard's misfortune seemed to strike a bit of fear in all the LPBT bowlers here.

"They all saw it and watched in horror," said Cora Fiebig, tournament director for the LPBT who spent four years on the tour. "There's so much pressure out here because you have to make the top 10 to take home any money [10th place is usually worth around $1,000]. One gutter ball can make it a miserable week."

Fiebig said she has seen female bowlers become angry enough to drive "their fist through a window."

Stacy Rider is the exception, even though she is the LPBT's closest answer to Ballard. Rider has been able to laugh and joke about her infamous gutter ball.

"Mine is the most well-known on the women's tour," said Rider. "They're still kidding me about it."

Rider, 23, pulled an even bigger fade than Ballard on national television three years ago in South Bend, Ind.

Easing the pain a little was that Rider rolled her gutter ball in the 10th frame of the first game of the stepladder finals instead of in the championship game.

Rider, of La Habra, Calif., needed two pins on a 10th-frame spare to beat Lori Nichols and advance to the next round.

But she got nothing and lost the game, 168-166.

"It was my first television show, and I was really nervous," said Rider. "The ball just fell off my hand and went in the gutter. I looked like I saw a ghost. I didn't even want to go home and face my friends. Fortunately, I was able to make another TV show before I went home."

At first, Rider said none of the other women on the tour knew how to approach her.

"No one knew what to say, but they later discovered I could joke about it," she said.

Even last year's LPBT Bowler of the Year, Tish Johnson, threw a gutter ball in a tournament championship game on national TV two years ago in Charleston, S.C.

But Johnson's gutter ball came in the first frame, and she went on to beat Lisa Wagner, the 1980's Bowler of the Decade, 227-226.

"It was funny and something stupid," Johnson said yesterday. "Anybody can do it. It just happens."

Johnson, of Panaroma City, Calif., said she has had only one gutter ball on national TV but about 17 overall in 12 years on the tour.

Leila Wagner of Annapolis has avoided channel balls in 20 television finals but remembers about 10 in 12 years in qualifying and match play.

"I don't worry about them," said Wagner. "Because I usually play the extreme outside line, anyway, and if I throw one [gutter ball], that means I'm only missing by a board or two."

1, Dana Miller-Mackie, Albuquerque, 1,362. 2, Aleta Sill, Dearborn, Mich., 1,355, 3, Tish Johnson, Panorama City, Calif., 1,327. 4, Robin Romeo, Van Nuys, Calif., 1,252. 5, Karen Ellingsworth, Des Plaines, Ill., 1,212. 6, Sandra Jo Shiery, Coldwater, Mich., 1,206.

7, Carol Gianotti, Australia, 1,196. 8, Cindy Coburn-Carroll, Buffalo, N.Y., 1,194. 9, Alecia Kanazawa, Mountain View, Calif., 1,177. 10, Cheryl Daniels, Detroit, 1,176. 11, Stacy Rider, La Habra, Calif., 1,170. 12, Sue Neidig, Miami, 1,169.

13 (tie), Lorrie Nichols, Algonquin, Ill., and Sandra Fuesrt, Roseville, Mich., 1,164. 15 (tie), Sharon Todd, Bowling Green, Ky., and a-Sharon Hill, Suitland, Md., 1,162.

17 (tie), Alayne Blomenberg, Cranston, R.I., and Leslie Hill, Carlinville, Ill., 1,160. 19, Jan Schmidt, Rochelle, Ill., 1,147. 20, Nikki Gianulis, Vallejo, Calif., 1,144. 21, Jackie Sellers, DuBois, Pa., 1,142. 22, a-Debbie Kuhn, Baltimore, 1,137. 23, Leanne Barrette, Oklahoma City, 1,135. 24, a-Ada Bylsma, Odenton, 1,134.

LPBT gutter balls

Bowler .. .. .. .. .. Tour yrs .. TV Overall

Tish Johnson .. .. .. .. 12 .. .. .1 .. ..17

Stacy Rider. .. .. .. .. .4 .. .. .1 .. ..11

Leila Wagner .. .. .. .. 12 .. .. .0 .. ..10

Sherri Dodge .. .. .. .. .2 .. .. NA .. .. 5

Sharon Todd. .. .. .. .. .3 .. .. .0 .. .. 6

Diana Davenport .. .. .. .4 .. .. .1 unknown

Carol Gianotti. .. .. .. .3 .. .. .2 .. .. 4

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