It featured a heroic lead in Walter Ray Williams Jr., who is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – bowler of all time. Williams recently was named PBA Player of the Year for a record seventh time. He has turned 50 and is now participating in the senior circuit while continuing to dominate on the regular PBA tour.
The tournament in Brentwood was his second on the Senior PBA Tour following his victory at the Miller High Life Classic in North Carolina in his first outing a few weeks earlier. So all of the smart money was on Williams to clean up once again.
The other character in this movie-like tournament was Don Sylvia, a 57-year-old former house pro at Harvest Park Bowl, whose life had taken a downward spiral in recent years. In 2007, following a seven-year stint at Harvest Park, he left for personal reasons, went through a divorce, injured his bowling arm, was out of work and didn’t have insurance or money to pay a specialist to check it out. “The last few years haven’t been too good,” said Sylvia. “Last year I was hurt and had to withdraw. In the past year a lot of things have changed. Sometime you have to start slow and get the planets back in line. I was living in Florida with family and friends. I couldn’t find any work. Things were getting pretty bleak.”
His life began to turn around, however, when he contacted a friend in Reno, who helped him get a job at the bowling center there last September. “The job gave me some kind of balance,” he said. “You have leaks and have to plug them up one by one.” He also has kindled a long-distance romance. “She’s been a positive sign for me,” he said. “She kind of gave me a little bit of confidence back.”
Sylvia, unlike Williams, was far from on top of the bowling world, having won just two tournaments in his career, and having become rusty from inactivity. “Coming back to Brentwood, I had no expectations,” he said. “I hadn’t bowled a tournament in over a year. I bowled league, but it’s a lot different. I was excited, but I wasn’t overburdened. I was coming back to see a lot of friends and do well.”
Were this an actual Hollywood film, the tournament would have come down to the final frame in the championship game between The Greatest Bowler of All Time and the scrappy, hard-luck guy just looking to get a break in life. It didn’t quite work out that way because, in a major upset, Williams got knocked out of the tournament early, losing by just two pins in a five-game match to Sammy Ventura.
But it was a true Hollywood ending for Sylvia, who was on a roll all tournament. After qualifying eighth, he knocked off Noel Vazquez in three straight games to make it to the top eight. He won two games against Ron Garr to reach the top four, then beat Kerry Painter by more than 100 pins to make it to the championship. Sylvia then outbowled J.P. Muller by 36 pins to take the crown and the $8,000 prize money as fans and friends cheered on the returning hometown hero.
“I exceeded my expectations,” he said in an understatement. “I felt very relaxed coming into this week. It was good to get back on the lanes. Even though I’ve had a tough couple of years, my love for bowling hasn’t changed. I’m very, very excited about what happened over the weekend. I always want to bowl for those people because they were so good to me in my seven years there. To come back and win this thing there is quite the dream.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world when you have hometown support. It’s a plus, but it’s like a double-edged sword. You want to do well for them and sometimes you try too hard and don’t. This (crowd) is like the sixth man. There was a lot of positive energy going in there (in the championship).
“This was my third title. But at the moment this is probably the most important win of my career. Where I have been the last 18 months – this is a big boost of confidence. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I’m going to treasure it for a while. I owe it to everybody at Harvest Park Bowl, and everybody in that town was a part of this win and will be for a long time. Hopefully, Jim (Wangeman) will have it next year, so I can come back and maybe we can have another dream.”
The tournament was also a victory for Wangeman, who made a bit of money this year, unlike the slight loss he took last year. He has to pay $20,000 to host the PBA Senior Tour, which is in its 13th year at Harvest Park Bowl, but usually makes it back from sponsors, pro-am tournament fees and food and beverage sales. Attendance was up this year, he said, with about 400 people watching the championship.
“It went great,” said Wangeman. “I couldn’t have written a script any better. We had the greatest bowler of all time bowling in our tournament. We had a lot of Hall of Famers bowling in the tournament. It was wonderful; it was very successful. We had 106 professionals and their guests.
“This is one of our best tournaments ever. It was very well attended; we had good crowds all week; filled our hotels up. It was very successful for us and the city. We have a wonderful staff here. Sherry Mackenzie, our tournament director, and the whole staff does a great job. And we appreciate everybody’s support.”
Many local bowlers won cash awards or scholarships in the recent Harvest Park Bowl 2010 PBA Northern California Senior Classic Pro-Am Tournament.
Adult Division: Clark Walmer – $300; Aaron Washington – $200; Kevin Dexheimer – $150; Rex Hernandez – $110; James Seltmann – $80; Brett Chambers – $75; Anne Wangeman – $70; and Mark Beringer – $65.
Senior Division: Barbara Arthur – $370; Mike Palmer – $270; Alan Close – $180; Jack Disney – $150; Marie Wilson – $130; Scott Groves – $130; Bob Rhiner – $100; Steve Crescenti – $90; Patty Garrity – $80; Bob Damico – $70; Jeffrey Key – $65; Coy Madsen – $60; James Furlong – $55; Jerry Shelton – $50; and Jon Carr – $50.
Boys: Jacob Scocca – $25 scholarship handicap; Conner Wax – $25 scholarship scratch; plus Jeremy Morelock, Tim Barton, Maxwell Herbert, Kyle Turner, Nathan Ridl, David DeVera, Parker Allen, Ben Walmer, Joey Wilson, Kyle Dryer and Isaac Gonzaga.
Girls: Shardaya Johnson – $25 scholarship handicap; Shamari Smith – $25 scholarship scratch; plus Hailey Bischoff, Amber Aeschbach, Brooke Norwood, Kelly Ford, Samantha Becerra, Skylar Dexheimer and EmilyRose Iles.