by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
There maybe a royal wedding coming up. But starting Tuesday night in Cheektowaga, the coronation of Buffalo’s best bowler began with 128 men & women fighting for the crown.
The 55th George Obenauer Masters Tournament began it’s six day run at Airport Lanes. At the end, only one bowler will remain from the grueling test of skill, stamina and focus. That bowler will have the right to call himself Buffalo’s best.
The Obenauer Masters dates back to the days when the sport was the King of Buffalo. When it started in 1964, there was nearly a bowling center on every corner and nearly every person in town bowled. The tournament is named for George Obenauer, a former president of the Buffalo Bowling Assocation. Even though the sport has become less popular over those 54 years, the Obenauer has remained mystical to that rabid and bigger-than-you-might-think bowling community.
“It started so long ago, and it’s just been the main tournament for all the better bowlers in the area,” says Bill Palumbo, the association manager of the Greater Buffalo United State Bowling Congress Association, and the man who runs the Obenauer. “They know they’re going to bowl on a tough shot, they know they’re going to bowl against the best in the area.”
A Masters Degree in Buffalo Bowling
There are a number of reasons why the Obenauer is so hard, and such a big test of the area’s top bowlers. The competition is fierce. Every year, the field contains all of the top bowlers in Buffalo. That includes current and former professional bowlers. The list of Obenauer champions is a who’s who of local bowlers. Tom Baker, Jack Jurek, Dick Ciprich, Nin Angelo, Liz Johnson, Ryan Ciminelli and Brad Angelo have all worn the crown.
Buffalo bowling Hall of Famer Mike Zarcone won the Masters in 2014.
“There’s a lot of great bowlers in this town. You see the people who have won it. There’s a lot of great bowlers who haven’t won it. That’s why it’s a privilege to win this,” says Zarcone.
Second, it’s grueling test demands the best out of the champion over those six days. The winner will have bowled at least 20 games and up to 30 games. To win, you can only lose one match. Sometimes the winner doesn’t lose at all.
“Eight games of qualifying, then you got three game matches. It’s a double elimination tournament. It’s fun. Once you get in that loser’s bracket, it’s a tough way out,” says Zarcone.
Wearing the Crown
The bowling community in Buffalo is close. Most of the top players bowl against each other in leagues across town. A weekly travel league brings those top bowlers together all over the area. Many of the top bowlers team up to enter local and regional competitions.
That just breeds a new level of respect, and competition. When the Obenauer comes around every May, friends become rivals when the biggest title in town is on the line.
No one knows that better than Palumbo, who’s been a part of the Masters since he was a kid and his father Ben ran the tournament.
“That’s just the biggest feather in their cap to win this tournament,” says Palumbo, “I would bet you that the bowlers would give up all their titles to win the Obenauer. City titles, a lot of things to just win one Masters.”
The 55th Obenauer Masters continues through Sunday at Airport Lanes in Cheektowaga. The finals will be held Sunday afternoon. Visit the GBUSBC website for the latest results.