The Forgotten Past - John Handegard
By Tina Marie Caouette
I'm old enough, but not that old, to remember a different take on bowling. Yes, when I grew up bowling had double the membership. Honor scores, a cherished event, not a regularity. The majority of centers, mom and pop operations. These bowling alleys, yes they were called alleys, filled leagues that spanned double shifts as blue-collar men cracked open their Budweiser cans and enjoyed "guy’s night out". The ceiling tiles had a yellow tint to them, that's if you could see through the dim lit lights and smoke fill settee. Indistinguishable rubber balls endowed with customized names hung out on the ball returns as a way to identify your equipment. It wasn't about condition, or equipment but accuracy and pure talent. There wasn't anything called synthetic it was just maple and pine as far as the eye could see. It was the best-of-the-best and bowling at its prime. Games were won and lost allowing, some to leave with a week's worth of pay in their pockets from side action. It was a simpler game in some ways, as no one complained about conditions as they were always challenging.
You might wonder why I would label an article about legendary bowler John Handegard as The Forgotten Past. Well, for most, that is what John Handegard is to them but not for me. I wonder how many centers on league night John could walk into and no one, not even the staff, would recognize who he is. For me that defines the distressing state of the game today. The youth can no longer be bothered about past greats. They only follow the trends, the two-handed releases, and the hottest balls on the market. Their own personal ego's so inflated by the typical house shot they fail to distinguish greatness even when it stands in front of them.
While in Texas, I was fortunate to obtain a few minutes with the great USBC Hall of Famer John Handegard. This was not the first or even second time I've met the man. Simply the first time I managed an interview with him. The prior occasions, years and years ago were Pro-ams. He, just like today, is a kind, gracious and full of life man. His work ethic on the lanes, legendary, and is something I inspired to have as a youth. It took me a while to acquire the nerve to ask for an interview as I watched from a distance, his demanding presence on the concourse, even today at the young age of 75. I could talk about his 14 PBA Senior titles, his three-time PBA Senior Player of the year awards (1991, 1995, and 1996) but instead go and check out this great piece if you want more info on his past please watch the YouTube video.
I really need to thank Donna Conners who was kind enough to introduce me, allowing me a few minutes alone with John to ask a few quick questions. This wasn't a planned interview and I was for simplest terms star struck, but did managed to get some great answers and insight on today's game. My only regret was in all the excitement I never got an autograph or picture with him, well maybe next year.
The first thing I had to ask was, are you still bowling? "I just got back into bowling about a year ago." Again, this is where Donna and Carol of Carol "Stormin" Norman's Pro Shop need to get some recognition. You want to know what a first class Pro Shop does when a legend such as John comes into the shop and says I want to get back into the sport. You set him up with some new equipment and refuse to take his money. That to me is C-L-A-S-S...CLASS. Words can't even describe in this piece how awesome they are. Way to go ladies!
Okay let's continue. So John how would you rate your game today? "Well, I'm being a pessimist," John laughed with this innocent smile. "I'd say it's about eighty-five to ninety percent. It's coming along though. I bowled today already and bowled yesterday after I spent some time watching the tournament over here. So, I'm still working on it." Yeah, John at ninety percent is most people's two hundred percent.
John was known during his time on tour as meticulous student of practice. Many say the only person who practiced harder was another legend, Don Carter. It was this kind of work ethic that helped get him into the Hall of Fame. The kind attitude I tried to model my game after as a youth and one of the reasons why, at the young age of 50, he found such great success on the senior tour. I remember watching religiously on Wide World of Sports, as week after week he seemed to dominate the TV telecast. With so many changes in the sport over the years, I wondered what John thought of today's game. John, in his still youthful voice answered, "It has changed more in the last twenty years then in the previous 100."
As I writer I could only imagine spending a day listening to stories of the past with him. John continued talking about today's equipment, "In every respect there has been change. I used to have a pro shop in Reno. And it was pretty simple back then to layout balls and drill them. Now a days I would have to go back to school." His hands danced like a French men as he explained, "They talk about dual drills and different angles and mais bias and preferred axis spin." He finished with a smile and the honesty he was known for, "I don't know what they're talking about."
So John, that being said, what do you think about the youth bowling out on the lanes today like Danielle McEwan and Marshall Kent? "Amazing. They can do things with the ball I can't and could never possibly do." In a way, I agree with that statement, but the game has evolved from a pure physical and mental game to one that nearly requires a Physics Degree to be competitive.
John spent years on the PBA, both the regular as well as the Senior Tour. I wanted his take on the current PBA. On the talk, that the PBA is doomed as there is less demand for it on TV compared to the hay-days of ABC Sports. "We were hearing that twenty, thirty years ago how the PBA was struggling. It's just a difficult and complicated answer. I mean you need more corporate sponsors for sure." So John, how would you relate that to the years you were on tour? There was a split-second of reflection as his face as he became a bit more serious. "I mean the guys need to make a living. And it's so tough out here to make a living now-a-days unless you're in the top ten percent. So sure the PBA is going to struggle. I think it is. I don't know the answer, does anyone?" His passion for the PBA and what it all meant emanated the room as a chill ran up my spine. I would think that the PBA or even the USBC should sit down with legends that made this sport great such as John. They could draw from the wealth of knowledge being untapped and maybe, just maybe, together could help find a way to bring the demand for this sport back up.
John was around in the pinnacle days of the Women's Tour and knew many of them personally. I wanted his take on bring back the PWBA (Professional Women's Bowling Association). "I'd like to see them get back because there is so much talent out there." John pointed directly at me, "You know, you watched this weekend and bowled." He continued," I was watching Liz bowl. Liz Johnston who just won the US Open. I can't believe she can throw the ball that hard and make it hit as good as it does." I have to agree. Having bowled that weekend with some of today's greatest women bowlers it was amazing to see the talent level, but also disheartening to know there are so few tournaments to showcase this talent. "So they've evolved too," John explained. "I would love to see the women get back into the game because my game comes closer to matching up to that than what these young guys are doing." Spoken like a true competitor.
I have received many tips from some of the greats over my lifetime. In fact, John himself gave me a few tips when I was young that monumentally changed my game. So after a not so stellar performance on the lanes I had to ask. Give me one tip you would share with those looking to bring it to the next level. There was no hesitation only confirmation that he's extremely passionate about, not just his game, but how he sees the evolution of the sport. "First thing I'd tell them would be to have a good positive mental attitude and learn more about the mental game. They've already got the physical game. They need to learn how to think and really appreciate what they have." Truer words of encouragement have never been spoken. I have to agree, if there is one element of my game that is truly in need of repair it is that fraction. So I might not have bowled all that well that weekend, but walked away with a statement I now have posted above my desk as a constant reminder of what a legendary weekend it truly turned out to be.
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