When I was 13 yrs. old they built two lanes in Madison Square Garden(right where the Knicks play) Pros were coming in to do an exhibition. I was very excited because at 13 I was consumed with bowling and the history of it. The pros in the exhibition were Don Carter, Dick Weber, Marion Ladewig and Judy Audsley (now Judy Soutar) One side note here. Judy had accomplished so much at such an early age that Brunswick signed her.. So at the age of sixteen Judy was making appearances with the icons of the sport.
The exhibition was tremendous. When it ended, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a pro bowler, I wanted to be like Dick Weber.
After telling my dad about the exhibition he set up a series of five 30 minute lessons with Andy Varipapa. This was tough because Andy was on Long Isl and we were in Brooklyn and we didn’t own a car, so we had to take two trains to get there. At 13 I had a 10 board drift to the left and hit the line stiff legged with my slide foot sideways. Andy asked (in broken English) “You seriously want to be a good bowler?” I said, “Of course, Andy. That’s why I’m here.” He said, “Then you will do what I tell you to do without any questions.” I said of course. He said, “The next shot you throw, after you let the ball go, I want you to bend down until your left knee touches the ground and then get back up, like you genuflect in church”. I did, he said, “Good, do it again.” I did. He said, “Keep doing it, I’ll be back in 20 minutes.”
After 20 minutes, my right thigh and left knee were so sore, I was bending as low as I could so that I only had to drop 3 inches to touch the floor. Andy came back and said, “Good, now you have knee bend, I’ll see you next week, if you’re still bending your knee we’ll go to step 2, if not, you’ll do this again for another 30 minutes.”
The next 4 lessons were taught the same way. Lesson 2 was putting me on the center dot, and scotch taping 2 pencils left and right of the center dot at the foul line. Andy said, “Now walk straight, because if you don’t, you’ll hit a pencil and fall on your ass.” 3, 4 and 5 were:
3 – release the wrist at the center of gravity (in bowling it’s the ankle)
4 – On the follow thru, the elbow must reach the height of the shoulder before it breaks and in the direction of the target.
5 – His most important… At the point of release the cup of the elbow MUST be facing downlane. If it isn’t you’ll have early turn and early turn is death, or as Andy put it… Morte’.
One of my biggest regrets is in the 1978 Long Isl. Open on TV I had the first 11 against Mark Roth. Andy is sitting right behind me, and I choked and hit the nose in front of my coach. 16 years later, when I bowled 300 against Walter Ray Williams in the National Championship in Toledo, Andy was already gone.
cento anni’…Johnny Petraglia