This time last week, I was in suburban Detroit preparing to go live on national television for the first time. I was hired by the United States Bowling Congress to be a part of the Queens tournament broadcast on ESPN2.
I should be prepared for this, right? I majored in Broadcasting and Electronic Communication at Marquette University and spent all four of those years in Johnston Hall at the student-run radio and TV stations. I've worked on the air and behind the scenes in the immediate environment of commercial radio. I have experience on camera hosting locally produced TV shows on CBS 58 and MPTV. Plus, I've spent nearly five seasons performing live in the stands and on the big screen at Miller Park as a Milwaukee Brewers Game Day Host. So, should I be nervous when that little red light goes on?
I suppose not, but there certainly is an adrenaline kick and a little bit of pressure that goes along with being a part of a live presentation. I felt more excitement and anticipation than nervousness. Kind of like a rollercoaster as it starts creeping up that first big hill. You're apprehensive and right at the last moment you wonder in a panic what the heck you just got yourself into and you want to bail out. But once it gets going, it's a thrill and you want to get back in line and take another ride.
I'd be more nervous if the focus of the show was directly on me, but it's not. My role is as host of the "Down the Lanes" game day desk, a first-time feature in a sport bowling telecast. I bring you commentary from pro bowlers Del Ballard and Jeri Edwards.
Sportscaster Dave Ryan handles the play-by-play and PBA Player of the Year Chris Barnes does the color commentary. Barnes is put in a unique situation since he is married to the top seeded Queens competitor, Lynda Barnes.
The pressure at the USBC Queens is really on five of the top female bowlers in the world competing for one of only two titles in women's bowling. The Queens title comes with $30,000 and some serious bling -- a tiara, pendant and trophy.
The day before the broadcast, I arrived to observe the final day of qualifying matches to decide the top seeds. The competition was impressive, intense, and frankly intimidating. There is a lot of talk about the stress of competing on TV under the bright lights, scrutiny of the cameras, and the cheering crowd, but the dynamic of the silent bowling center during each set of games seemed to create a tenser environment to me. The focus each player has is amazing. And necessary.
As a casual bowler, I originally thought rolling the ball as straight as possible was the key to winning. Oh, no. While bowling is a social sport that seems very simple, it is actually a very scientific sport. Understanding physics and applying that knowledge is what will help you knock over more pins. Making adjustments with your body and choosing the right balls for the right shots are just part of the strategies involved in playing one's best.
Most people think of beer when you mention bowling, but the liquid that you really should associate with the sport is oil. Oil is the ingredient that creates the sport condition of the lanes by creating a challenging pattern that players have to negotiate. And that pattern continues to evolve with every roll as the oil breaks down.
Eric Pierson, USBC Lane Maintenance Manager, explained to me the very specific process of how a Zamboni-like machine evenly distributes a precise amount of oil in a calculated pattern on the lanes - often an amount less than would fill a shot glass. This has a distinct impact on the behavior of the ball and the real game becomes the ability to adjust your delivery and choose the best ball to roll.
I have respect and admiration for the athletes I met. I got the opportunity to interview finalists Amy Stolz and Joy Esterson and socialize with Lynda Barnes. These ladies are genuinely nice people who just want a shot at making a living at doing what they do best and are passionate about -- bowling.
I also got to have a good chat with last year's Queens champ, Kelly Kulick, who you may remember made national sports news in 2006 when she became the first woman ever to gain a season-long exemption on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, taking on all the men.
The common theme in chatting with the women was that they are ready to play, to encourage other people to get involved in the sport, and most importantly, they all see women's bowling as a viable option for corporate sponsorship to help grow the sport. The USBC has been a part of Milwaukee for decades, but bowling headquarters relocates to Texas later this year. These ladies certainly hope that women's bowling stays on the agenda in the transition.
Yet she still has more Milwaukee discoveries and delights to share with us here.
You'll be sorry if you ever ask her to attempt a British accent (it's awful), but she's always up for talking about all things English, Elvis and alternative ‘80s music (not necessarily in that order).