AWBA takes center stage at 2019 USBC Open Championships in Las Vegas

By Matt Cannizzaro and David McCord
USBC Communications

For years, the American Wheelchair Bowling Association and United States Bowling Congress have worked together to help grow the sport of bowling in the wheelchair community.

This weekend, those efforts culminated in the inaugural AWBA Weekend, a special celebratory and competitive opportunity for AWBA members to compete at the 2019 USBC Open Championships.

More than 50 competitors from across the country took to the lanes at the South Point Bowling Plaza for team, doubles and singles competition, many bowling in the Open Championships for the first time.

One of those first-time bowlers, 44-year-old Colby Kortum of Thornton, Colorado, saw the experience as an opportunity to learn about his own game, and he appreciated the challenge of the tournament's two lane conditions.

"It was fun, but it was a very humbling experience," Kortum said. "At home, when you throw a shot, you have a few boards left or right to make a mistake. Out here, any mistakes you make are magnified. It shows you what you need to work on to become a better bowler. It also makes you respect the people who come out here and do well on these conditions. It's amazing what they are able to accomplish."

RyanGary2019OCAWBAForWeb250x140For AWBA Tournament Director Gary Ryan of Houston, his Open Championships debut in 2017 was special, and he was proud to be able to share the unique experience with so many AWBA members.

The grandeur of the venue and rich history that dates to 1901 immediately made Ryan eager to return.

"I had no idea of the scope of the tournament," Ryan said. "There were teams from Germany, Norway and people getting awards for their years of participation. I had never experienced the stadium atmosphere, or the music as you head to your lanes. It was one of the highlights of my bowling career."

The 2019 Open Championships features three average-based divisions for bowlers of all skill levels, and the event will run for 122 days from March 9-July 8.

While formally participating in the tournament and competing for the event's coveted Eagle trophies given to all champions, as well as a share of the multi-million-dollar prize fund, the AWBA members also were bowling amongst themselves for special AWBA Weekend awards.

The AWBA was founded in 1961 by Richard Carlson, when Carlson and 13 of his friends, all in wheelchairs, went to a bowling center in Kentucky wanting to bowl. From those humble beginnings, the AWBA now has more than 500 members who compete in eight regional tournaments throughout the year.

After experiencing the Open Championships this week, the AWBA now is adding the storied event to its tournament list.

"This is just the start," Ryan said. "We are looking to grow and raise awareness about our organization."

Along with AWBA, the Open Championships also attracts dozens of teams from The National Bowling Association and the Japanese American National Bowling Association (JANBA), and initiatives like AWBA Weekend have helped the relationships grow in recent years.

An ongoing relationship between USBC and the Special Olympics brings the Special Olympics National Unified Tournament to the Open Championships lanes each year as a way to kick off the world's largest participatory sporting event. Each year since 1991, the two tournaments have shared the same stage.

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