Norwood A. Heselbach, 79, champion duckpin bowler

April 04, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Norwood A. Heselbach, a champion duckpin bowler who was elected to the Duckpin Hall of Fame, died Monday of a heart attack at his Dundalk home. He was 79.

Mr. Heselbach broke a world record in 1959 that had stood for 16 years -- knocking down 1,691 pins in 12 games of league play in the era of the wooden pin. Current records, based on the livelier plastic pins, were not available.

Born and raised in Baltimore, he attended city schools until leaving to help support his family. In his late 20s, he went to work as a railroad brakeman for the Patapsco & Back Rivers Railroad from 1947 until his retirement in 1979.

As a teen-ager, he set up pins three nights a week at United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canton, where he learned to bowl.

Known as Nordy or Hes, he joined the Baltimore City League in 1954 and bowled with a five-man team that won the national duckpin tournament that year. Though he was right-handed, Mr. Heselbach released the ball from the left side of the alley.

"He was a real smooth bowler," said his friend of 60 years, Bernard A. Ruzin, whose father opened Patterson Bowling Lanes on Eastern Avenue in 1927. "He was always in the game, and it was enjoyable bowling with him."

Mr. Ruzin described his bowling buddy as "a three-step bowler who just glided in his stride."

In 1959, Mr. Heselbach joined the Baltimore Professional Duckpin Bowling League. By 1969, he was averaging 131.79 pins a game and was ranked seventh in the nation. Despite such talent, Mr. Heselbach rolled duckpins for 30 years without capturing a major title until winning an Evening Sun tournament in 1964. He went on to win it again in 1966 and 1967.

"It's the toughest tourney to win and it's a big thrill," Mr. Heselbach told The Evening Sun. "You go along for years, then all of a sudden, within two weeks, everybody knows you."

In 1965, he was the National Tournament singles champion after rolling 486 in the title match. He won the Celebrity Mixed Doubles Tournament in 1969 with Lois Dofflemyer when they combined for a world record of 2,407 pins.

A familiar figure for years at Patterson Bowling Center and Greenway East, he rolled his best game when he knocked down 214 pins at the Greenway lanes in 1980.

He once won $1,400 after rolling a strike on the old "Duckpins and Dollars" show on WMAR-TV. Mr. Heselbach was elected to the Duckpin Hall of Fame in 1987.

"He kept on bowling into the early 1990s, until finally his legs gave out," said a son, Brian G. Heselbach of Perry Hall.

He was a member of United Evangelical Lutheran Church. Services were held Thursday.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Lorraine Helm; another son, Wayne D. Heselbach of Rosedale; a sister, Naomi Despaux of Annapolis; and two grandchildren.

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