Bill Dennis, Association Manager
As Association Manager, I am also the named “Executive Director” of the MBA Hall of Fame, a holdover title from years when fancy titles were apparently important. Nevertheless, I’m in charge because it’s part of my job description. Of course I enjoy it, take it seriously, and try to do the best job I can. I am the facilitator of the process. I have no voting power, serve on no committees, and wield no influence over the voting, except when it comes to Hall of Fame Constitutional matters, or when it is (rarely) necessary to protect the integrity of the Hall. This is one of those times.
This year, the exclusion of one of the nominees, one of the finest amateur bowlers in the country, has generated a predictable spate of outcry, strong language, and speculation. I’d like to put to rest some of that speculation and provide you with a more focused examination of our Hall of Fame system and why, albeit not perfectly, it works as well as it does.
The recent voting for our 2016 Class resulted in five well deserving individuals being slated for induction this year. Since 2007, when I ran my first Hall of Fame, our Hall classes have been top flight. True again this year. Over my tenure, I don’t really see any nominee who absolutely shouldn’t be in. Nor do I see any nominee who has lost eligibility that absolutely should be in. Certainly, there are names on both sides that inspire discussion. Still, it is not up to me, or you. In the case of Meritorious Service and Veterans category nominees, it is up to a 20 member committee. In Distinguished Performance, it is up to the 70 person collective voting body of the Hall of Fame and MBA Board of Directors.
I will guide you through a short version of the process, focusing on the performance aspect of our Hall – which affects our Distinguished Performance and Veterans categories.
For your convenience, a copy of our Hall of Fame Constitution is here.
To simply illustrate our Hall of Fame process:
Qualifying –> Nomination –> Profile –> Credentials –> Committee –> Balloting –> Induction
To qualify for the MBA Hall of Fame a bowler has to be 45 years old, a member of the MBA at some point in his career, have an outstanding record of achievement or service; never have been suspended, and participated in 10 MBA Championship (City) tournaments. Note that in order to even get to the (final) balloting stage, these requirements must be met.
The MBA Hall of Fame process allows anyone to be nominated. To officially nominate a candidate, I just have to be told. To date, I have taken phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and bar napkins. Someone even wrote one down on a piece of paper like it was 1980 or something.
At that time the nominee is notified by mail, with paperwork asking for a list of credentials – city, state, national titles and best finishes, honor scores, other tournaments, service to bowling, and so on – the typical stuff. Nominees are not forwarded until the office hears back from the nominee. There are occasions when a nominee does not want in the Hall of Fame at that time or maybe even ever. That decision is up to the nominee, and I do not pry. There are other times when the nominee has little record of their history and utilizes the MBA, WSBA, and USBC to gather information. With this year as no exception, I craft detailed profiles based on any information I can source, coordinating with our MBA Director of Research who tracks membership, averages, high averages, etc.
Once complete, the profiles are forwarded to a Credential Committee. This committee is comprised of knowledgeable, trusted, objective Hall members who review them to ensure qualifications are met and the profiles meet the outstanding record of achievement requirement. For example, this committee would compare a nominee profile to bowlers in the Hall already, taking into consideration the nominee’s age (comparing them with their contemporaries), and examine years of activity (to potentially reassign Performance candidates to Veterans candidates), among other things.
Those that make it through the Credentials committee advance to the category Committees. There is one for each of our three Hall categories, Distinguished Performance, Veterans, and Meritorious Service. At this level the individual committees determine who should appear on the final ballot in that category. These three committees meet consecutively.
All of these committees convene together to cast their Veterans and Service ballots. The Performance ballot is mailed to all Hall of Fame members and MBA Board members. When all the ballots are returned after roughly a two week deadline, they are opened at the bowling office in the presence of usually half a dozen Hall members.
We have an annual Hall of Fame and Bowler Recognition Dinner in August. It’s a pretty good show and a lot of fun, you should stop by sometime. I’m expecting over 200 to be in attendance this year.
It needs to be understood that this Hall of Fame belongs to its members. The Madison Bowling Association has proprietorship and the Board of Directors facilitates the process, but new members to the Hall are elected largely by the current members of the Hall.
Most every member of the Hall has dedicated decades of their life to bowling as a competitor or has supported bowling in any number of capacities. They have earned the right to self-determine their membership, who they stand shoulder to should with each year, and whose names and faces are on the plaques next to theirs on public display. They have earned the privilege of defining the exclusivity that is this Hall of Fame. And, they also have full power to propose changes to the Hall of Fame constitution at any time.
The constitution is really pretty skeletal, existing primarily to steer qualified nominees through a committee process so they can be voted on. It is subjective in that respect, and that’s what makes it work.
The MBA Hall of Fame is hard to get in. Ultimately, it is the collective opinions of the entire body that gives the process strength and validity. Voters can vote however they want. They prioritize different things in different ways. Everyone wants to see performance. Some also value character. Some focus solely on numbers. It’s their Hall and their vote. If a nominee can impress 70% of this type of voting body, that nominee is worthy of the Hall. That’s the baseline. And, this is precisely how we always seem to generate superb Hall classes. Sure, there are slam dunks. I have overseen 10 Hall elections and 29 inductees and of that, 13 have entered the Hall on their first ballot. Only one bowler has swept the balloting. Only one. Since I prepare the bowler profiles, this absolutely astounds me sometimes. But my opinion on who to vote for is no greater than yours which is no greater than any other Hall member. Still, those other 16 did get in eventually.
Voters were allowed to choose two of the three candidates this year. It’s also max three if there are four or five candidates. Do these types of rules create a logjam? Perhaps. Those that are worthy will get in soon enough. Otherwise, we could have years with no inductees … which nobody wants. 2013 would have been one of those years. Did vote splitting knock a candidate out this year? Mathematically, it is possible though impossible to speculate.
Finally, let’s look at this year’s nominees in the Performance category, since that is where much of the inappropriately named “shameful” activity took place.
There is no question – none – that all three of this year’s candidates (out of six initial nominees) greatly exceeded the definition of outstanding bowler. They all have extensive Hall of Fame worthy lists of achievements to their credit.
Character, whether written into the Constitution or not, is a valid credential in the minds of many current Hall members. None of us are angels, of course, but there are acceptable limits to behavior in the minds of some voters. It matters very little – probably not at all – if we take the names off of the profiles. By and large, our Hall members know who these bowlers are or will consult with other Hall members to find out. Even with that, we’ve had … ornery … bowlers eventually make the Hall, though perhaps not on their first ballot.
Thank you for looking this over. I only want everyone to understand our Hall of Fame process and how it works, because I think it works very well. This opinion is based on 10 years of watching it work well. I’ve been pleased with the results year to year though, admittedly, have 0% accuracy predicting the outcome based on the nominees.
In the end those that merit the honor will make it into our Hall of Fame. It’s a tremendous honor that comes with tremendous responsibility – maintaining the future and integrity of the Hall. I am very appreciative of the dedication of our Hall members; they have done a superlative job.