ARLINGTON, Texas -
The National Bowling Association
is built on a foundation of education, empowerment and celebrating success and togetherness, all in an environment that makes every event and meeting feel like a family reunion.
Sadly, though, when the tournaments and get togethers resume for TNBA members later in 2021, after a long run of uncertainty and cancellations, the return to some sort of normalcy will be bittersweet, as there will be a few familiar faces missing from the long-awaited hugs and handshakes.
Like so many families across the globe, the TNBA membership could not avoid the unwelcomed reach of the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected thousands of members at every level of the organization and claimed the lives of more than a dozen dedicated bowlers who have served TNBA at the national level or were very active in the annual national convention.
Additionally, as time seems to be speeding by, a list of non-COVID losses also has grown since the last TNBA national convention. Traditionally, more than 100 bowlers already are recognized annually at the TNBA Memorial Service, a special and emotional part of the convention.
This only illustrates how important it is to be able to hold events and use all recruiting opportunities to attract and educate the next generation of TNBA leaders.
"These times are devastating, but we know we will come together once again, excel and strive to exceed anything we've accomplished before," TNBA President Dewann Clark said. "Our organization is exceptionally resilient, and we have overcome so many things as we've survived and thrived in our first 82 years. This is a different type of challenge, of course, and a year of incredible sadness at times."
Among those lost in the last year were many longtime TNBA volunteers who worked hard to help bowling and TNBA through its toughest times, including an uncertain 2020:
- Dwight Dale, a 69-year-old from St. Louis, was the tournament director for the TNBA Southern Bill Rhodman Memorial Singles Classic Tournament. He died Jan. 16, 2021.
- Tommie Lakes of St. Peters, Missouri, was a former TNBA South Region Tournament Director. He died Dec. 5, 2020 at age 72.
- Former TNBA President and past United States Bowling Congress Board member Perry Daniels, 71, of Carrollton, Texas, most recently served TNBA as a field representative for Texas. He died March 31, 2020.
- Vera Johnson of Detroit was a TNBA Central Region Field Representative. She died in March 2020 at age 68.
- James Alston of Richardson, Texas, died in late February 2020 at age 93. His death was not related to COVID-19. His involvement in the sport transcended the decades. He was a longtime TNBA National Tournament Director and a former TNBA Vice President.
- Alesia Bryant of St. Louis became part of TNBA's first all-female cabinet when she was elected vice president in 2000. Cornell Jackson was president and Margaret Lee served as executive secretary-treasurer. Bryant went on to serve as TNBA President, as well. She died in 2020 at age 77.
The list also includes Sylvia Grayson of Los Angeles, who was instrumental in the growth of the TNBA King and Queen program and died in January 2021 at age 92; Helen Monroe of Philadelphia, a past Philadelphia Senate President and strong participant at the annual convention and executive meetings, who died in 2020 at age 83; and a trio of past former TNBA Queens who all died in 2020 - Barbara Barnes and Cathy Sykes of Chicago and Trudy Peoples of Washington.
"We had so many bowlers and families affected by this pandemic, from competitors to members of the administration to some of our most influential people," Clark said. "These few in particular, they all were key contributors and icons in our organization and were contributing to our progress until the day they died."
Soon, the world, and the bowling community, will move beyond COVID-19, but it will not be forgotten. Neither will the people who were lost along the way. Instead, they all will be remembered for their respective impacts on society and bowling.
Since its inception in 1939, TNBA has maintained a focus on inclusion and giving bowlers of all colors a stage to develop their skills and enjoy the amazing camaraderie the sport has to offer. There have been many other challenges and exciting successes that have helped shaped TNBA's history.
While the organization was created with Black bowlers in mind and initially named the National Negro Bowling Association, the diversity of its fast-growing membership led to a name change five years later.
TNBA was on the front lines of the fight to unify bowling completely, and that became a reality in 1950, when the American Bowling Congress and Women's International Bowling Congress eliminated the Caucasian-only clauses from their bylaws.
Even as the culture of bowling shifted in the decades that followed, TNBA has been careful to continue its own history and traditions, while continuing to recruit members and run top-tier events.
In recent years, the organization has included between 23,000-27,000 members across more than 115 local chapters, called senates, in four regions, and it is the pride, motivation and hard work of the members and leadership that allow the organization to thrive.
The biggest event of the year for the organization is TNBA Week, an extended get together that includes the annual convention, national tournament, a huge meet-and-greet party with games, music and dancing, a Gospel Fest and a day of remembrance for members and volunteers who died since the last TNBA Week.
"The competition is a major component of what we do, along with the camaraderie, but the reunion aspect of our events, especially TNBA Week, is unlike anything else we do," Clark said. "Things were much different from 2019 to 2020, and even to right now. It has been challenging and frustrating. We've seen a drop in membership due to everything, and, of course, the loss of some key members. It has been a challenging year, but we're ready to move forward."
Tournaments and fundraising are a very important aspect of TNBA's activities, and those are the things that help fund the programs and pay staff members.
Traditionally, the year's top fundraisers are recognized and celebrated at the end of TNBA Week. It marks the end of another cycle of friendly fundraising competition between the senates.
The man and woman who raise the most money during the year are crowned the TNBA King and Queen at the week-ending Coronation Ball, and the honor earns them the opportunity to travel and represent TNBA at a variety of events during the next season.
TNBA did not want to miss this tradition in 2020 and was able to hold a virtual coronation, crowning Roy Johnson Jr. (Greater Washington Senate) and Adrienne Hal (Greater Richmond Senate) as the King and Queen for the 2020-2021 season.
Johnson and Hal did have a chance to begin fulfilling their royal responsibilities, as they both were able to attend the 2020 TNBA Eastern Regional Tournament in Virginia.
Shortly after, though, both contracted COVID-19. Johnson died in December 2020 at age 53. Hal nearly ended up in intensive care, but she was able to make a full recovery.
Along with getting to represent TNBA at events across the country, Johnson also was looking forward to being married. Hal, an ordained minister, was going to perform the ceremony.
"We have such dedicated members, who work tirelessly in many capacities, year after year, to help make TNBA better," Clark said. "We definitely will miss those we've lost, but we will continue to add on to the things they helped build and make sure their contributions are not forgotten."
Next up for Clark and the TNBA leadership is a Zoom meeting to update senate leaders about the organization's plans for 2021, including the upcoming TNBA Week, which is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas during the final two weeks of May.
Bowling will take place at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino, Sunset Station and Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall.
TNBA bowlers also will have the opportunity to experience USBC's premier event while in Las Vegas, the USBC Open Championships, which has a history that began in 1901.
As partners, TNBA and USBC have worked together to set aside squad times that allow competitors to experience both events in one trip. These special squads will be May 26-June 1. Interested bowlers can visit BOWL.com/OCTNBA for more information.
This telling of TNBA's story is part of an ongoing digital media campaign recognizing different groups, organizations and bowlers that make up the USBC membership, while also bringing attention to topics that affect the world on a larger scale.
USBC will continue to expand its diversity and inclusion topics and welcome the opportunity to showcase the people and other areas that are important to the members.
If you know someone who is a standout or inspiration in one of the areas listed above, or you'd like to suggest a topic close to you, please let us know more by sending an email to PR@bowl.com.
For more information about USBC and its programs and partnerships, visit BOWL.com/Diversity.