Less than hour after fulfilling life's dream of 300 game, Michigan bowler dies Bittner, 40, finally finds perfection, then is stricken by heart attack

December 16, 1992|By Matt Fiorito | Matt Fiorito,Knight-Ridder News Service

TAYLOR, Mich. -- More than anything else in life, Bob Bittner wanted to bowl a 300 game.

After 31 years of trying, the Taylor, Mich., man finally got his wish Monday.

Then his moment of triumph turned into tragedy when he died of a massive heart attack less than an hour after realizing his dream.

Bittner, 40, collapsed about 15 minutes after rolling his first perfect game. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital about 30 minutes after that.

Bittner's lack of a 300 game before that was a curiosity and a frustration. He was one of the best bowlers in the Detroit All-Star Classic leagues; he had four 800 series and had league-leading averages. But in an era when 300 games flourished, perfection escaped him.

But he never gave up, though in frustration he had quit bowling briefly a couple of years ago.

"He loved bowling," his wife, Pam, said. "He really wanted that 300 game, but then the one he shoots is the only one."

"He was one of the best bowlers I've seen," said Harry Campbell, who invited Bittner to bowl with the Stroh's All-Stars team last year. "He was very accurate and he didn't hook the ball a lot. And, in a way, that may be why he hadn't had a 300. He didn't have the big hook that allows you to get away with a bad shot. Because he threw

so straight, every ball had to be perfect."

But this season, Bittner was determined to shoot 300. "I drilled a new ball for him last week, and he told me he was sure this was the one that would get him the 300," Campbell said.

He told his wife the same thing. Bittner threw 12 strikes in the Monday Night Men's League, completing the game in an unusual setting -- he was the only one on the lanes when he stepped up for the final frame.

"Everyone was cheering for him," said Dan Konwinski, the league secretary. "Because of a delay at the start of their game, he was the last one in the league to bowl."

After Bittner got the three strikes in the 10th, the spectators joined his teammates in congratulating him.

"Everyone was asking him how many perfect games that made," Konwinski said.

"That's my first," Bittner said softly. "After 31 years, that's my first."

But, Konwinski said, "He really didn't show a lot of emotion."

At first, some people attributed Bittner's low-key reaction to disappointment that his team, Ventura Hair Salon, had lost a key game by one pin.

"He was a competitor," Campbell said. "If he didn't bowl well, it bothered him. If he bowled well and the team lost, that bothered him, too."

"We noticed that he looked a little white," Konwinski said. "Someone brought him a chair and he sat down. Then his head dropped down."

Gary Coleman, a paramedic who bowls in the league, rushed to Bittner.

"I can't find a pulse," he said. Coleman started CPR and Bittner appeared to start breathing again, briefly. When the ambulance arrived, Coleman rode to Heritage Hospital with the EMS team. When emergency room personnel took over, Coleman returned to Fairlanes Skore. He called back to the hospital immediately.

"He didn't make it," Coleman was told.

There will be one special touch at Saturday's funeral.

"We just sent it out overnight express," an American Bowling Congress spokesman said.

Bob Bittner will be wearing his 300 ring.

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