The National Bowling Association, Inc. is a non-profit corporation organized on August 20, 1939, in Detroit, Michigan, for the express purpose of encouraging African Americans to develop their skills in the game of Ten Pins. It was originally known as the “National Negro Bowling Association” because at the time of its birth, the American Bowling Congress and Women’s International Bowling Congress, the two governing bodies of bowling, now known collectively as USBC, both had clauses in their constitutions that would not allow Non-Caucasians to be members of their organizations. In 1944 it was renamed, “The National Bowling Association, Inc. TNBA actively participated in the fight for “Equality in Bowling.” In 1950, both organizations removed the Non-Caucasian clauses from their constitutions.
Prior to 1939 African Americans were limited to working as pin boys and porters at most bowling lanes. At that time, African American bowlers, primarily consisting of those workers, bowled at bowling lanes only during nonbusiness hours, a few YMCA locations and churches that had lanes installed or in some cases discarded bowling lanes in poor conditions.
Soon African Americans were successful establishing leagues in Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and Toledo. During these early years, bowling was kept very much alive with inter-city matches. The conditions they had to bowl under were by most standards appalling and the hotel situation was even worse! In 1938 bowlers in Cleveland felt that only through a national organization could we develop enough strength to alleviate the deplorable conditions. Cleveland invited all the known cities to compete in the first Negro National Bowling Tournament and it was considered a grand success. Representatives for each of the cities met afterwards and appointed a committee to arrange for a meeting to be held in Detroit to form a nationwide bowling organization. That meeting was held at the Frogs Club in Detroit on Sunday, August 20, 1939. A constitution was adopted, rules for future tournaments and the name “Senate” was selected for local governing bodies. Each city senate was directed to find bowling establishments and set up committees for local expansion.
As a departure from the past, TNBA has moved out of the dark and dreary “bowling basements” and now has the first class, multimillion dollar “bowling palaces” competing for TNBA’s business. TNBA is now courted by the top flight hotels and cities to host their conventions and tournaments. T-N-B-A. spells business. TNBA is no longer living in the shadows of the organizations that once held us at bay and denied us membership. Instead we have flourished and have risen in the bowling world as the oldest functioning membership bowling organization and the largest sports organization founded by African Americans with nearly 30,000 adult and youth members. Anyone who believes in TNBA’s cause, regardless of race, creed or color, bowlers and non-bowlers should join. TNBA has grown with approximately 115 affiliates, known as “Senates,” throughout the U.S. and Bermuda plus many more designated as group status. TNBA prides itself by offering first class services to its members, by certifying leagues and tournament events and issues achievement awards which are considered by many as superior to those offered by other organizations.
TNBA hosts a wide variety of national, regional, and local bowling events. The organization is divided into four regions (Western, Eastern, Central and Southern.) Each of these regions hosts an annual handicap tournament each weekend during the month of November. In March each of the regions also host a singles scratch tournament named after one of TNBA’s legendary bowlers and Hall of Famer, Bill Rhodman. Nationally, in February, the Reed Hawthorne Memorial Singles Classic tournament is held, which is open to scratch bowlers from all over the country. Finally, usually during the third weekend in May, is the climax of every bowling season with the Annual Championship Tournament and National Convention nicknamed “TNBA Week.” During TNBA Week, in addition to the bowling and convention activities, there are many social activities starting with the Meet and Greet and ending with the crowning of a new TNBA King and Queen and a Bon-Voyage dance. Certainly, no other bowling related activity can compete with the camaraderie that exists during TNBA week. For many it is considered a Homecoming where friends from everywhere come annually to meet and enjoy as TNBA ‘s motto dictates in the spirit of “Sportsmanship, Fellowship, Friendship.”
TNBA recognizes that “our youth is our future” and invests into our young people on and off the lanes. First is TNBA’s Junior Program, which annually certifies thousands of junior bowlers 20 years of age or younger. The Junior Program introduces young people to the sport of bowling and helps build character, competitiveness and camaraderie with teammates. Achievement awards are given for various age and skill levels. The Junior Program sponsors handicap tournaments within the four regions of the organization. The winning team from each region’s top category is also invited to the National Championship Tournament during TNBA Week, where they compete to become the National Youth Team Champions and earn additional scholarships. TNBA also offers junior bowlers the opportunity to show their skills at the annual scratch youth tournament where scholarships are awarded, and the winners crowned as the Scratch Tournament Champions.
Leadership skills are important to TNBA and the Junior Council Program is designed to take junior bowlers and expose them to the behind the scenes of what it takes to manage a successful bowling organization. The National Junior Council members not only attend, but actively participate in, TNBA’s annual convention, where the goal is to cultivate their talents as future leaders.
Lastly, the Junior Program and Scholarship Program (JP&SP) is a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible entity that functions as an auxiliary organization to TNBA and offers scholarships annually to college bound youths based on academics and community service instead of just their bowling skills. These scholarships are awarded to the children of our TNBA members and members of our Junior Bowler Program who are graduating seniors in high school.