The Professional Bowlers Association announced yesterday that its national championship tournament, for 22 years a staple in Toledo, will be moved to Taylor, Mich., next year due to the unavailability of a suitable site.
“We looked at several places in Toledo, even some high school gyms, and nothing was working out,'' said Beth Marshall, the PBA's director of corporate communications. Included were the University of Toledo's Savage Hall and SeaGate Convention Centre.
“We wanted to stay in Toledo. We've been there for the last 22 years. Unfortunately, we got stuck.''
The scheduling conflict came to light in August, said Sherry Gratop, co-proprietor of Southwyck Lanes, where the tournament was held the last three years and where the pro-ams, practice, qualifying, and early match-play competition would have taken place in 2003.
Now they will take place at the Taylor Lanes, beginning March 3 with practice rounds. Taylor is a downriver Detroit suburb, just west of I-75, about 55 miles north of Toledo.
Qualifying and match-play competition will whittle the field to the top eight - along with the top eight in the season-point standings - before the tournament moves to the Taylor Sportsplex in a 3,000-seat setting for the final two days of competition March 8 and 9.
“It's sad,'' Ms. Gratop said. “For 22 years we've had it in Toledo. A lot of people are going to miss it this year.''
She expects the tournament to return here in 2004. From 1981 through 2001 it was called the PBA National Championship. Last year it was renamed the World Championship. From 1981 through 1998 the event was at Imperial Lanes. For the last three years it was at Southwyck Lanes.
Ms. Marshall yesterday would not commit the World Championship returning to Toledo.
“As far as I know, it's a one-year deal to [move to Taylor],'' she said. “We love Toledo, so I imagine it would be somewhere on the schedule [in 2004],'' Ms. Marshall said. “It won't necessarily be the World Championship. It will have to do with how the schedule shapes up next year. But I know we'd love to go back to Toledo.''
So too would Jim Donnelly, president and CEO of the SeaGate Convention Centre and the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, who said the annual event brings $1 million to the local economy.
“We'd be happy to take in any event that brings that kind of dollars into the community,'' he said. “You never want to lose a piece of business that's been here forever.''
Mr. Donnelly said his office has been in contact with the PBA. “We're trying for future years to get them back. We're working on it.''
The issue came down to the possible lack of availability of Savage Hall for March 8 and 9 of 2003, which can offer the 3,000 seats the PBA prefers. Last year, Doug Kent won the final before 500 people at Southwyck.
But the PBA was still regrouping last year under new president and CEO Steve Miller. During the tournament, Mr. Miller announced the PBA's intention from that point forward to sponsor the final two days of its major tournaments in an arena setting.
“You can fit in more fans, frankly,'' explained Ms. Marshall. “Another reason is the production of the television show.'' In arenas you can bring in the kind of equipment to make the production “much smoother'' with “nicer overhead shots.”
“Another reason is, a major should be treated as such. It shouldn't be that five or six hours later, Joe Smith can bowl on the same lanes. It has to be something special.”
The scheduling problems began after the 2002 tournament with ESPN, which televises PBA finals, Ms. Gratop said. The all-sports cable network asked her to lock in dates for 2003 and 2004. She did at Southwyck and at Savage Hall for 2003, she said, with the finals to take place March 1 and 2 at Savage Hall. To accommodate ESPN, she asked and the Ohio Woman's Bowling Association agreed to move the start of its 2003 state tournament to the following weekend, despite the fact that the dates had been set two years before and involved not only Southwyck but Interstate Lanes.
Then came the first curveball. The PBA lost its sponsor for the Tournament of Champions, which used to be the final event on the schedule. Now, the PBA wanted to move the World Championship to be the last event, with the finals on March 8-9.
But in mid-August UT officials discovered that March 8-9 were no good for them. They got the schedule for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, and it was a week later than usual, pushing the various league tournaments back a week as well, UT game-operations manager Tim Warga said.
“Historically, it's been the first weekend in March,'' Mr. Warga said, referring to the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. “So I just said, `OK,'” to the March 8-9 dates.''
“We were excited to have the PBA tournament. We thought it was awesome to have it at Savage,'' said Paul Helgren, UT assistant athletic director /media relations.
“But we had to leave Savage open. You have to keep the facility open in case you host a first-round [MAC] game,'' which the Rockets have done each of the last three years.
Ms. Gratop said it was not an option to try to reschedule the women's tournament again.
So, from August until about a month ago, Ms. Gratop and others worked to find another Toledo site for the finals. They checked into SeaGate, the Sports Arena, Bowling Green State University's Anderson Arena, Owens Community College, the Lucas County Recreation Center, and Tam O'Shanter, among other places. All were booked.
“We tried everything,'' she said.
They even tried St. John's Jesuit, Central Catholic, and Perrysburg high schools. St. John's and Perrysburg prohibited the use of signage by the event's sponsor, Miller Brewing Co. Central's Sullivan Center proved unsuitable for the machinery.
Ms. Gratop called PBA officials last month, she said, and told them it might be better to move the tournament for this year only.
“They knew we didn't want to leave,'' Ms. Marshall said. “Actually, the folks in Toledo have been very helpful. It's a fairly short drive. We're hoping the fans will make the trip from Toledo to Taylor.''