Bowling's First 900 Score Still Disputed After 30 Years

Bowling's First 900 Score Still Disputed After 30 Years

12:40pm Mar 25, 2015

NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Jeff Richgels, who writes the blog, "The 11th Frame," about when bowler Glenn Allison rolled 36 strikes in 1982. His score was disallowed because of an alleged performance enhancing lubricant.

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When a bowler knocks down all 10 pins with one ball...


SIEGEL: ...It's a strike, and unlike a strike in baseball, it doesn't need an umpire's judgment to be called a strike. A strike is a strike, or so we thought - flashback to July 1982. Bowler Glenn Allison rolled strike after strike, 12 in a row for a perfect game of 300, then 12 more for another score of 300, and then 12 more strikes for a total score of 900. It was a fabled event in bowling, both for Allison's historic achievement and for the fact that it was officially disallowed by the American Bowling Congress because of some allegedly performing-enhancing lubricant. Jeff Richgels is with us. He's a hall-of-fame bowler who writes the bowling blog The 11th Frame, and he's a supporter of the campaign for recognition of Glenn Allison's 900. Welcome to the program.

JEFF RICHGELS: Nice to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, how rare is a perfect 900?

RICHGELS: Well, Glenn's was the very first official one, and there was not another one until 15 years later that could have been official. And that one was certified. So basically, there have been around two dozen.

SIEGEL: And apart from his disputed or disallowed 900, Glenn Allison otherwise is a very famous bowler, isn't he?

RICHGELS: Oh, yeah. He's a USBC - then, the American Bowling Congress - hall-of-famer. He had a several titles on the PBA tour bowling against the Don Carters, the Dick Webers, the Earl Anthonys. I don't think there's anybody that wouldn't call Glenn one of the all-time greats, and he's still competing fairly well at the age of 82. Last year in the national tournament, the USBC open championships, he had a - over a 600 series in the team event. And there's a lot of bowlers a lot younger than Glenn that sometimes don't get 600, including hall-of-famers like me. So he's - he can still bowl well, and he's a great guy, and a pretty amazing bowler all the way around - always has been.

SIEGEL: OK. Now explain to us, what was it about the oil on the lane where Allison bowled that caused his 900 to be disallowed?

RICHGELS: Well, back in those days, the oil - there was really strict limits on how much more oil there could be in the middle of the lane - the middle boards of the lane versus the outside. And what happens is oil reduces friction. So when there's less oil, you get more friction, therefore you get more hook if you spin the ball. If there's more oil, you get less friction. You get less hook. The ABC has never really been super definitive about exactly what they thought was wrong with the lanes. Back then it was a more a judgment call, and the oil on the lane is what bowling is all about at the highest levels.

SIEGEL: Is it important to him, so far as you know?

RICHGELS: When I've talked to him, yes and no. Yes, it is important just because it would officially set the record straight. But just the whole idea that in a sense because they turned it down, he's become more famous and his score has become more famous, and more bowlers probably understand the extraordinary achievement he did, throwing that 900 on the lane conditions of that era with the bowling balls of that era, which is a huge factor, versus what is done now. I'm not taking anything, necessarily, away from the 900-shooters now, but that was the greatest three-game league series in the history of bowling.

SIEGEL: Jeff Richgels, thanks for talking with us.

RICHGELS: Sure thing, Robert. It was great to be here.

SIEGEL: Jeff Richgels writes the bowling blog The 11th Frame, and we were talking about the disputed perfect 900 of Glenn Allison back in 1982. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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