Ten Pin Journal

I have been asked to write a few columns this season for the Milwaukee based bowling newspaper, Ten Pin Journal. This is indeed a great honor and I appreciate the opportunity to morph some thoughtful words into ink for many people to read, or more likely for people to talk about.

The editor, Doug Schmidt (author of the book They Came to Bowl), suggested that I talk about what’s going on in the MBA and/or my personal feelings on what’s going on with the USBC. The latter made accepting the offer irresistible.  The restriction of 500-600 words, on the other hand, makes it very difficult for your rather verbose association manager.

Here is the content of the first column, which is more USBC-centric than MBA – mostly because it’s August and we’re just getting started around here.


Welcome to the 2012-12 bowling season. In the Madison USBC Bowling Association (MBA), we kicked it off with our 41st annual Hall of Fame and Bowler Recognition Dinner. Chris Gibbons and Eric Pederson entered the hall with Distinguished Performance recognition, and Phil Dowling was vetted for Meritorious Service. It is another superlative class of bowlers, and the Hall of Fame ceremony was well-received by our 226 attendees.

There is a lot else new in the MBA as we implement innovative plans to address membership retention. These include an open bowling club and Welcome2Bowling coaching clinics.

We are able to innovate because managing the MBA is my full time job. I am sympathetic to many associations run by volunteers who are well-intended but incapable of fueling change by adding innovation to their plates and expense to their budgets.


Frankly, I think the current local/state/national association framework is so disjointed and so largely out of touch with one another that we are unable to substantively shoulder our responsibility to address bowling losses as a unified group. It is one thing to do a good job, something that thousands of association volunteers around the country do. It is quite another thing if the good job being done – isn’t the right job in the first place. This, I think, is the core of the problem when it comes to effectively addressing our membership losses.

In 2009, I attended a USBC town hall meeting and was informed of some Association Policy changes. Previously required, the now recommended policies included ‘operating under an annual budget’ and ‘implementing programs and services developed by USBC’. I argued unsuccessfully that this shift in policy weakens local associations.

For the past two years the USBC has been testing a variety of new membership products. A couple of them required only the National portion of dues. State and Local was an “upgrade” – at additional cost. Implementation of any of these new options, though not currently planned, would decimate local association budgets. Some of these tests even went so far as to bypass the local for processing membership data and awards. Instead, the USBC extracted the necessary data directly from league secretary software.

And recently, the Greater Fort Worth Metroplex USBC had their charter revoked for not complying with IRS requirements. The USBC announced the formation of a “new association structure” and formed the North Central Texas USBC.

People see these developments as writing on the wall – that the USBC is trying to get rid of locals. I spoke with one USBC official who adamantly denied this, contending instead that the USBC only wants to see the role of locals change. He said many locals are receiving dues solely for processing data when, as illustrated above, that function may not be necessary. It would be easy to label him “out of touch” with regard to our association, but he may be largely right considering the number of very small and ineffective locals in the country.

So maybe they’re not trying to get rid of locals, perhaps just “locals as you once knew them”. And that may not be all bad, if done correctly. Change is necessary and good, despite the best efforts to deny it by a plurality of conventioneers. However, I do not see much efficiency in a system where the role of the local association is a low budget, volunteer based system.

The USBC should instead seek to strengthen locals in the mold of successful national franchises like McDonalds, Starbucks, or Pizza Hut. Require high standards, establish accountability, standardize dues, and regionalize locals as much as practical. A regionalization effort would create locals with the financial wherewithal to hire an accountable professional whose job it is to operate under a budget and implement USBC programs and services, while maintaining the history of local bowling, operating local tournaments, and providing important services to local bowlers and proprietors.

Unfortunately, this change will require one of two things. A new national bowling organization that can create this system from scratch, or a dynamic change in philosophy by self-protection minded convention delegates. One of these is more likely, the other is preferable.

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