Mankato bowler has competed in national tournaments for five decades

John Lamm holds his bowling ball before rolling a few frames at the Wow Zone alley in Mankato. He’s knocked down over 83,000 pins in 50 years of bowling at national USBC Open Championships held all across the country. Photo by Steve Palmer

If John Lamm, of Mankato, was asked how many games he’s bowled in bowling alleys all across the country in the past 61 years he wouldn’t be able to tell you simply because there would just be too many to count.

However, what he can say is that he’s participated in 50 U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC) National Tournaments since 1965, and he has no thoughts about retiring from a game that’s been a favorite part of his life ever since he was 12 years old.

Now age 73, Lamm has accomplished much in his bowling career, including bowling six perfect 300 games, with at least one of them happening in each decade since the 1970s, and three 800 series scores of 813 twice and a 826.

His lifetime of competitive bowling was recently recognized last April at the 2017 USBC Open Championship in Las Vegas, Nev., where he bowled in his 50th national tournament and was awarded a plaque, chevron patch and diamond lapel pin celebrating the milestone.

His family, including his wife, Joanne, and two daughters – Julie and Gina – were also in attendance to make it a supportive family affair during the presentation ceremony at South Point Bowling Center.  “Joanne and Julie escorted me down the center aisle for the awards,” he said.

“It was special to have them there,” John added.  “Gina gave me a laminated scrapbook she put together chronicling all of my awards, scoresheets, photos and newspaper story clippings that have been written about me during the past 50 years.  She gave it to me just before we boarded the plane to Las Vegas,” he recalled.

John said there were about 10 Mankato teams and two from New Ulm on the flight going to the tournament.  “So we had a good time passing the book around and having guys sign their autographs on the final page in the book,” he noted.

His first national tourney he attended at age 21 was held in St. Paul, but he didn’t go back again until 1969 to Madison, Wis.  Since then he’s been to consecutive tournaments held all across the country bowling everywhere from coast to coast, east to west, north to south and in between.

He’s usually accompanied by Joanne, and together they’ve had opportunities to visit many historic sites on these trips mixing bowling with John’s interest in history.

He’s bowled at all of the Mankato bowling alleys past and present during six decades, including:  Village Bowl, Striking Lanes, Double Deuce (now Victory Bowl), Sunset Bowl/Dutler’s Bowl and Urban Lanes.  These days John mainly does his bowling at Mankato’s Hilltop Wow Zone Lanes.

His working career found him in the printing/publishing business for the Mankato Free Press, MGA Graphics and Taylor Corp.  He’s remained busy for the past 11 years with the job of lawful gambling manager for the Lake Washington Improvement Association pull tab operation located at four Mankato bars where he oversees and takes care of electronic and paper receipts.

Besides bowling, Lamm and Joanne stay active participating in water exercises twice a week at the YMCA.  He plays golf in the summer and goes camping with his family.  He figures he averaged about 300 league games a year when he first started bowling often rolling through two league shifts a night and has recorded 450 games at nationals.

John’s pin fall total heading into his 50th national tournament was 83,121 for an average of 188.4 pins per game.  His best year at nationals came in 1991 at Toledo, Ohio, when he posted  scores of 687 in singles, 676 in team and 672 in doubles for a 2,035 all-events total.  Those are all John’s personal bests at the Open Championships competition.

Nevertheless, his favorite Open Championship memory is hard to pick because the majority of his USBC trips have been great.  “I guess my favorite trip to the nationals was to the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium in 1995 at Reno, Nev. with eight teams from Mankato going there to enjoy the atmosphere and experience the fun,” he said.

But his favorite Open Championship host city is Corpus Christi, Texas, where the nationals have been held twice since 1992.  “Being from Minnesota, it’s great to get a winter break and go to a warm climate,” he said.  “The hotel is on the beach, the lanes are close, and there were many things to see and do…the food was great too!”

He also knows a lot about bowling history.  He said the 1979 Tampa, Fla., nationals was the first time electronic scoring was used in the tourney that first began at Chicago in 1901.  “I don’t know if there are many bowlers left today who still know how to manually fill out a scoresheet by hand,” John joked.

Reaching 50 years bowling at the nationals has meant a lot to Lamm.  “It means I’m a survivor!  I have met so many people and have many great memories.  Many teammates and friends are not able to bowl anymore, so I feel lucky and blessed to have been able to celebrate my 50th tournament with my family and friends,” he commented.

Besides longevity at the nationals, other achievements Lamm is proud of are winning the Minnesota state all-events title in 1969 when he set a state record of 2,051 and when he became a charter member of the Mankato Area USBC Bowling Hall of Fame in 2008.

Also, in 1969, he rolled the greatest four-game total of his life, with a 1,025 to tie legendary Don Carter for the second-highest world’s total.  At the time it was the highest four-game count by a Minnesota bowler in history.

In addition, he once bowled a sizzling five-game total of 1,118 pins at the Holiday Classic Bowling Tournament in Albert Lea and won an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas.  John said he probably has collected enough patches during his career to sew together and make a bowling shirt.

The trophies he’s won are numerous too.  “I’ve got lots of stuff put away in boxes,” he recalled.  “Back in the day every alley in town was filled with bowlers.  I used to bowl in leagues three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Joanne on Tuesday and Thursday.  Then one of us often went to a tournament on weekends.”

In the early 1980s he averaged a personal-high 222 for the season.  Now he bowls in just one league and averages around 210 a game.

Joanne has bowled in about 10 national tournaments.  A few years ago she was the highest women’s bowler in the 65-69 age category at the Minnesota State Tournament and won a trip to the national senior tournament at Las Vegas where she finished fourth in her division.  Together, they’ve shared going to the state senior tourney for the past 15 years.  Joanne also was honored in 2013 when she was inducted into the Mankato Bowling Hall of Fame.

One of John’s favorite tournaments he attended for 29 years was the Peterson Classic in Chicago.  “That place was very unique,” John stated.  “The first time I was there I rolled a 1,580 and won $1,000.  The alley was located upstairs in a building, and you had to carry your ball up a long flight of stairs.  You had to ring a bell to get into the alley through big golden gate steel doors.

“When you checked in they put your ball in a shopping cart to take to the lanes.  They had old wooden ball returns on the lanes, and they gave you big black pencils to keep score.  The lanes were hand-oiled and conditions were tough.  We used to bet each other a dollar that a person couldn’t hit the head pin on his first ball roll, and I won a lot of dollar bills,” Lamm laughed.

As a cancer survivor his recovery period slowed him down for awhile on the lanes, but he said he’s coming back now and getting stronger to continue pursuing the game of bowling that he loves.  “My doctor says it’s important to stay active and whatever I’m doing to keep going because it’s working.”

Through 2016, only 205 bowlers nationwide have competed in 50 or more tournaments.  Next April the national tournament will be held in Syracuse, N.Y., and John plans to return for his 51st appearance.  “Why stop now? It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve met some interesting people and established a lot of new friends.”