"They call me 'Mr. Bob,' " Robert Cryster said. "They've been doing that for a long time."
They call him "Coach," too -- and they sure have been doing it for a long time. "They" are the youngsters who bowl in the Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA) at Bel Air Bowl. How long?
Well, Pres Coale, owner of Bel Air Bowl, didn't build the bowling center around Cryster 32 years ago. Not quite. Cryster started coaching the young people of Harford 31 years ago.
"You bet I'm going to keep right on coaching," he said. "It's one of the things in life that I really enjoy."
Cryster's going to keep right on bowling, too, though with advancing age his average has dropped from the 190s into the 170s. Bob will turn 73 in October, a few months after he starts his 32nd year of coaching at Bel Air Bowl.
In addition to the Saturday Youth Program and the Sunday Senior Youth Group, Bob has found time to coach the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Bowling Program. And he rarely misses a local YABA Annual Meeting.
Born in Duquesne, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Cryster moved to Harford in 1937 and lives a few miles from Bel Air with his wife, Clara. Oh, yeah, she bowls, too. She averages 150-plus and, no, her husband doesn't get to do too much coaching with her.
Cryster was a supervisor at Aberdeen Proving Ground when he retired in 1977, giving him more time to coach.
"I'm coaching the kids of kids I coached," he said. "I can remember coaching Carol Walker, and now Carol and her husband are my teammates on the Friday Night Late Owls league."
Cryster bowls in the Thursday Commercial league as well, and while he's never thrown that elusive 300 game, he has a career-high single game of 289 and a high set of 749.
"I have dropped the weight of the ball I throw," he said. "As I've gotten older, I've started using a 14- or 15-pound ball instead of my usual 16-pound ball."
There just isn't room to list all the young bowlers Cryster has helped over the past three decades. But Bonnie Kissner, secretary-treasurer of the Cecil-Harford Young American Bowling Alliance, came up with some names Harford bowlers will recognize immediately: Valerie Bright had a very successful youth career and continues as a major competitor in the Women's All Star Association. Karen Stombaugh was a National Junior Bowling Championship finalist as a youth and still carries an enviable average.
Kevin Rutherford, Tim Criss and Chris Anderson are members of the Professional Bowlers Association. Rutherford now runs the "Learn to Bowl" clinic at Bel Air Bowl, and Criss has been out on the PBA tour this season.
On June 28, the Cecil-Harford Young American Bowling Alliance formally recognized Cryster's work by presenting him the YABA Valuable Service Award.
After spending 31 years of weekends at Bel Air Bowl with the youngster, Cryster summed up it all up in his usual modest way: "I always felt that if I could keep a kid in the bowling center, I could keep them off the street. Very few of my bowlers ever got into trouble. Most of them became good bowlers and good citizens."
What else would you want in a coach for your kids? Cryster set a great example by his dedication, consideration, support of the individual and his availability to anyone who asked for his help.
That's "Mr. Bob." That's "Coach."
* TOURNAMENT NEWS * The third annual Country Club Classic Tournament continues at the Baltimore County center every weekend through Aug. 22. The tournament features three separate handicap divisions: "A" for averages of 200 and up; "B" for averages of 180-199; "C" for averages of 179 and below. First prize is a guaranteed $4,000.
* The Suburban Bowlarama, York, Pa., continues its WSBA third annual Team Classic every weekend through Aug. 23. First prize: Four new 1992 Pontiac Lemans cars plus $2,000 in cash.
* NABI will be host to a tournament at Fair Lanes Clinton, July 25 and 26. Guaranteed first prize is $1,000.
* The LPBT Regional Open will be at Greenway Bowl Odenton Aug. 7-9. On Friday, Aug. 7, the Youth/Adult Pro-Am squads will bowl with the lady professionals. The final takes place Sunday, Aug. 9, when the "Don Vitek Best of Bowling Radio Show" will broadcast live from the concourse of Greenway Bowl Odenton. Drop by and talk bowling with the lady pros.