A BRIEF LOOK AT THE EARLY YEARS OF TNBA
The story of The National Bowling Association (TNBA) is yet another piece of the African American epic. It is a story of challenge, a story of courage, a story of vision, a story of determination and a story of triumph. The backdrop of the early TNBA story is the social, economic, and political climate of our nation during the first half of the 20th century. This period is particularly marked by the great depression and World War II, both events touched the population in some form or way.
It is in America where the formal seeds of what would become TNBA were sown. In the 1920s’, participation in this sport by black Americans was primarily as pin setters, janitors, and custodians. However, some African Americans did engage in bowling under particular circumstances. In the cities where a few were participating, it was minimal due to availability of accessible lanes (two to four lanes). Cleveland, Ohio -2 lanes at Napodals Alleys, Cincinnati, Ohio -3 lanes at the YMCA, Chicago, Ill. -4 lanes a St. Christopher Church, Toledo, Ohio- 2 lanes at Douglas community center and Detroit, Mich. -4 lanes on Chenney Ave. in a basement. As the popularity of the game began to grow, the number of bowlers begin exceeding available lanes on which they could use.
Bowling League formation began to increase in these cities but due to limited lane availability; league play had major coordination challenges. The Bowlers from Cleveland were major impact factors in the formation of what would initially become The National Negro Bowling Association (NNBA). In 1931, a group led by Oscar McDonald, Wynston Brown and others formed the United Clubs Bowling League in Cleveland. This league consisted of four teams bowling on 2 lanes. The 1933 season started with 8 teams. The number of teams made it “… impossible to conduct leagues games on the two alleys at Napodals…” Alleys. This situation necessitated a search and find for more lane availability. They were able to move to Waldorf Recreation Lanes a center with 7 lanes. Twelve teams competed in the new location in 1934. Cleveland women began to participate in competitive bowling during 1935. In 1936, the ladies of Cleveland led by Ms Viola Crosswhite formed the 6 team Ladies Progressive League. The men league now had 18 teams. The challenges for available lanes became even greater during this period. Representatives from both the men and ladies’ leagues sought investors to help provide bowling establishments. The potential investors did not respond favorably. This period represented the early stage of African American participation in this sport in the USA. Similar scenarios were occurring in Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, and other cities. The interest in bowling however continued to increase among African American.
In 1939 the first bloom of what would become NNBA begin to take shape when Wynston Brown and others arranged the first inter-city match game with Detroit. The first Tournament was sponsored by Wynston Brown, Jack Robinson, J. Elmer Reed, and Joe Blue. The cities which participated in the first tournament were Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, and Toledo. This event occurred on May 5&6, 1939 at the Ontario-St Claire Avenue lanes. The winning team was Chicago’s Woodlawn Alcumes team. They won the Joe Louis Trophy and shared $35.00. The high men series was 589 by Jimmy Jones. This tournament and the bowling condition which confronted African Americans provided the impetus for NNBA.
The founders of NNBA 22 in number met in the Frogs club in Detroit on August 20, 1939, to plan the formal planning for the organization. Representatives were present at this meeting from the STARTING FIVE CITIES : Cincinnati[(2)- John Smith, Arble J. Woods]; Cleveland[(7)- Firley Carr, Wynston Brown, Joe Blue, Jack Robinson, J. Elmer Reed, Oscar McDonald, Ms. Viola Crosswhite]; Chicago[(3)- Issac Rivers, Brownie Cain, Leroy Brown]; Detroit[(8)- Henry Hardin, Ernest S. Moore, Ms. June Watts, George Porter, James Roden, Richard Benton, James Watts] and Toledo[(3)-Lucius Huntley, Dwight Guy, Clarence King ]. The first draft of the Constitution of NNBA was presented from Cleveland and it was approved at this famous meeting. The first President was Wynston Brown –Cleveland, Luscious Huntley of Toledo was Vice President, Richard Benton of Detroit was Secretary and Brownie Cain of Chicago was Treasurer.
PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES-
The Constitutional purpose of was to foster and promote the game of Ten Pins among both men and women. Membership was open to all bowlers, without regard to race, creed, or color. The basic tenets of TNBA were to promote sportsmanship, fellowship, and friendship among its members. To that end, it served as a recruiting agency and point of entry for black bowlers who otherwise would not get the opportunity to develop their skill and compete.
The first National Convention was in held Cincinnati in 1940. The timing for organizations for black Americans was ripe and the TNBA founders moved with a sense of urgency. They spread the word about the new bowling organization to cities in the mid-western and eastern states. TNBAs’ growth was rapid, and member’s cities or affiliate Senates expanded. Black Americans, particularly the returning war veterans began to advocate for enfranchisement into the better side of American Society. Some of the new incoming members of TNBA were these veterans. Gaining access to adequate bowling facilities was a major challenge for the members of TNBA.
“It was necessary for the local Senates to secure bowling lanes in order to grow” quoted by J. Elmer Reed. He also wrote that the lanes that we could use were in neighborhoods that changing or lanes that were about to close. Some proprietors, he said, would give us certain days to bowl and on other days we were not allowed to enter on the premises. The dominant social attitude was that Caucasians did not want to share their lanes with other races. All TNBA bowlers were having similar experiences regardless of the city. In Cleveland Mr. Reed and two investors took the posture that they would have to either buy existing lanes or build some. Their initial challenge ranged from getting reasonable prices from owner banks to reasons for restricting desired activity at proposed property sights. They finally found a property that met the needed dimension criteria. However, they had to pay a higher price for its purchase. The Brunswick Corporation recommended a builder who was subsequently told by the bank to get up front cash or it would cut off its credit. Mr. Roger Price and Mr. William Pierson put up the cash and United Recreation Bowling Center was built in 1941. Mr. Sea Ferguson built the 12 lane Fun Bowl in Indianapolis in 1942. Also in 1942, Joe Louis and a group of African Americans built the 20 lane Paradise Bowl. And in Toledo a 13-member group, built Belmont Lanes.
These new Bowling Centers ushered in greater expansion of TNBA. In 1941, TNBA was incorporated in the State of Ohio as the then NNBA (National Negro Bowling Association). In 1945 the decision was made to change the name to National Bowling Association, the National Bowling Council another bowling organization objected to this name change. This Ohio organization would not rescind its position, so the Incorporation was changed to the State of Illinois under the new name The National Bowling Association, Inc.
African Americans owned bowling establishments from the Atlantic to the Pacific thru the 1950s. TNBA expanded faster than lanes build by black proprietors could take place. During this period, TNBA, the NAACP, The Committee on Fair Play in Bowling, the Mayors commission On Human Relations (led by Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey) and other organizations pressured the American Bowling Congress (ABC) to remove the Caucasian only Clause from its Constitution. Lawsuits were filed in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New York. On May 12, 1950, the ABC removed the clause and on June 5, 1950, the Women International Bowling Congress (WIBC) followed with its constitution. Mr. Sidney Celestine TNBA President appointed a committee to work out a program for the integration of bowling with ABC and then with WIBC. These events mark the rise of African American to the status within the bowling world.
On May 24, 1951, at St Paul Minnesota, African Americans competed for the first time in the ABC National Tournament. The team was from Detroit and bowled at the Joe Louis Paradise Lanes finished in 72nd place and won $600.00 in prize money. It was sponsored by Mr. Lafeyette Allen owner of Allen & Sons Supermarket. Mr. Allen was the Bowling Editor for the Michigan Chronicle Newspaper, and he later became a columnist for the Detroit Bowling Digest. The members of this historic team included: Maurice Kilgore, George Williams, William ‘Bill’ Rhodman, Clarence Williams and Lavert Griffin. Their composite team score per game was: 886,989 and 1035. In the doubles event, Bill Rhodman and Clarence Williams rolled a 1,278 set for 22nd place. Their individual scores were Maurice Kilgore 619, George Williams 582, Bill Rhodman 596, Clarence Williams 588 and Lavert Griffin 525. This event marked a significant starting point in the American Bowling arena.
TNBA was a major factor in the integration of African Americans into the Bowling World, and this played a part in the implementation of American ideals and principles. Ebony magazine estimated in 1947 that 15,000 black bowlers were actively participating in the sport weekly.
ADDITIONAL TNBA HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
1945- The Joe Blue Award for outstanding achievement donated by the Cleveland Postal Alliance was approved by TNBA in his memory.
1946- Jack Marshall, Chicago first recipient of Joe Blue Award. National Travel League began in Cleveland.
1948-Bill Rhodman- first African American to bowl official 300 game.
1953-Cleveland Courier named Charles Bedell, Sterling Scott, Bill Rhodman, Maurice Kilgore and Lavert Griffin to its all-star team as “the nation’s best black bowlers”.
1959-Mary L. Wilkes was a former treasurer of TNBA, the Award was established in honor her extraordinary contributions to TNBA.
1960-Martha Burton of Washington DC received first Mary L. Wilkes Award. J. Wilbur Sims and Don Scott became first blacks to compete in PBA event.
1961- First Regional Tournament Eastern region. Sadie Dixon became first African American to compete in Bowling Proprietors Association Tournament.
1963- Louise Fulton first African American to win PWBA event, Princeton Open.
1966-Margarette Uncles of Washington DC- First Female TNBA member to bowl a 300 game.
1972- First Rhodman Classic Tournament in honor of Bill Rhodman, an accomplished TNBA bowler and bowling instructor. Event was held in New York’s Madison Square Garden-Lou Ballard of New York organizer and tournament director.
1976-First National Tournament held in south- Altanta, Ga.
1980-Sidney Celestine, Margaret Uncles, J. Wilbur Sims, Lou Ballard, Viola Crosswhite and J. Elmer Reed first inductees into TNBA Hall of Fame; Joan McDuffie of Chicago became first female President of TNBA.
1984- Junior Program and Scholarship Program was initiated. Inaugural Celebrity Bowl event held in Louisville, Ky- Ruth Payne of Cincinnati.
Wayde Broughton, TNBA Historian