Aiming to be bowling kingpin

AT PLAY

Local tourneys may help Glen Burnie man take a shot at pro leagues

April 12, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bryan Jelcic has long wanted to become a part of the Professional Bowlers Association tour. The 28-year-old Glen Burnie resident began bowling at age 7 and continues trying to work his way up the sport's ladder.

Pro bowlers make their money and earn a living through a variety of tournaments around the country. But there are also several local and regional competitions in various states, including Maryland. Jelcic competes in those events regularly, especially the Free State Classic Tenpin Tour, which includes many Anne Arundel County tournaments.

Jelcic bowls in the Free State tournaments to work on his game and master how to compete under pressure.

This tournament is a three-game event that has financial rewards based upon the number of bowlers entered. The top bowlers can win about $400 to $500 at a tournament.

The most recent Free State competition took place last weekend at Fort Meade. Forty-two bowlers came to compete Sunday afternoon. Jelcic has earned money in different Free State events but came up empty in this one. However, he won one of the tournaments earlier this year and always puts Free State on his calendar.

"I [like] the Free State tournament," Jelcic said. "It gets me ready for the next level. I'd still like to keep doing it even if I get to the PBA."

Jelcic has grown into a solid bowler over the past several years. The Glen Burnie High School graduate bowls in two leagues and carries an average of about 216.

The Free State Tour "is almost like the PBA tour," Jelcic said. "I've been doing it for at least five years."

Joining the PBA is a simple proposition. A bowler needs to keep an average of 200 or better in the league he or she is in for the most recent season and pay a $99 application fee. But then the added expenses come in.

There are fees for entering tournaments as well as incidental expenses. For example, if a bowler from Baltimore participates in an event away from the area, he has to pay expenses involved in getting to the city and living there.

Stacy Karten, the Free State tournament director, has more than 25 years' experience in bowling and said the cost of being in the PBA is at least $1,000 per week - and probably a lot more.

Bowlers work to reduce their expenses, but even those attempts to save money have a cost. Some bowlers, such as Harford County native Tim Criss, own motor homes.

The Free State tour began in 1993 and goes to spots in the Baltimore area. Anne Arundel County often has played a major role in the tour. Six of the 10 tour stops are at county bowling lanes.

Karten started the tour after leaving Fair Lanes Inc., after a long career with the bowling center company. He'd been there for 14 years before changes eliminated his job.

He began the tournament as a stopgap until he found a full-time position, which later wound up being an independent marketing job that involved bowling much of the time.

Karten said many of the same bowlers have stayed with the tournament for long stretches, something that's made it a solid competition.

"It's a combination of camaraderie and the competitive thrill," Karten said. "We've been able to keep this going for 13 years."

The tournament is well known throughout the Anne Arundel County bowling world. Karten sets up a string of competitions that go from September through April on a yearly basis, and he also tries to put together tournaments in a variety of places.

"I try to keep the tournaments in the Greater Baltimore area," said Karten, an Owings Mills resident. "That way, anybody can get there easily. But I had a nice relationship with some [Anne Arundel] places. I had known the owners and managers for many years."

Others affiliated with bowling in the area agreed on the importance of having a good tournament nearby on a regular basis.

"It gives them a chance to participate in a tournament, and they don't have to go miles and miles to get in it," said Gordon Adams, assistant manager of the Severna Park Lanes. "It's close by, and with [many of] the same people each week."

Adams said having many of the same bowlers on a regular basis is a big reason for Free State's popularity.

"It's like a family," Adams said. "It's friendly competition."

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