by Jim Kohner, columnist
The closing of Winona Bowl in the spring put some pressure on Westgate Bowl to step up for league bowlers.
And step up is just what Jim Kronschnabel and Julie Gardner have done.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Kronschnabel, Westgate’s general manager and business partner. “We’ve worked hard over the years building our open bowling business, corporate outings and family outings. With the influx of leagues, high school bowling and the junior leagues, now we’re very limited on our open bowling hours. We don’t want to disappoint our corporate and open bowlers – that’s the big challenge.
“But it’s a nice problem to have.”
Over the past few years, 70-80 percent of Westgate’s revenue came from open bowling. Now that revenue will have to come either late at night or on weekends.
Monday night, with the City and Blue Ribbon League combining into one league, 15 of the 16 lanes are used from 6-9 p.m. The Pin Topplers League fills the remaining six lanes.
Tuesday’s American League is up to 14 teams, Wednesday’s Mixers League is now eight teams, and the Kickass Classic League on Thursday improved to 14 teams. And for the first time in years, Westgate has a Friday night league as eight of the Legion League teams made the move over.
The high school bowling team also practices and has its home matches at Westgate, and Saturday mornings are now filled with two shifts of junior leagues.
“From what I’ve heard, the bowlers have been extremely happy,” Kronschnabel said “We’re working hard to welcome them. The bowlers have been great being flexible and fitting into our schedule.”
The Blue Ribbon League bowled for 30-plus years on Tuesday at Winona Bowl, but most of the teams wanted to stick with the five-person squads. Tuesday’s American League is a three-person league. So six of the 10 teams from last year, along with three City League teams, now form Monday’s City League, the state’s oldest league.
Gardner, Westgate’s proprietor, is thrilled to have the junior leagues back at the bowling establishment.
“We’re enjoying the parents, the coaching has been great, and everyone seems to be enjoying the family time,” Gardner said. “For me, I’m so honored and grateful to keep this place going for Paul and Carole Gardner. I’m privileged to keep it in the Gardner family and keep it going since Geoff’s passing. And Jim has been a huge help.”
Westgate generated a lot of bowler participation in the summer by taking part in the Kids Bowl for Free event, which is a national program. This summer, 47 families and 480 youth bowlers participated in the program.
“Bowling is not dead.” Kronschnabel said. “It’s a lifetime sport. It’s one of the things families can do together.”
Rich Babler Memorial tournaments
The first tournaments of the season for both adult and youth bowlers will be on October 19-20 at Westgate Bowl for the annual Rich Babler Memorial Team Baker and youth tournaments.
The team Baker event will be on Saturday at 1 p.m. Teams can be any combination of five bowlers, men or women, with a total combined team average of 1,000 or less based on last year’s averages. All teams will bowl eight qualifying games and the top eight will move to match play. The event is open to the first 16 teams that register and pay the $150 entry fee.
The junior tournament will take place on Sunday at 1 p.m. That is open to all junior league bowlers in the Southeast Minnesota USBC. All participants will bowl four qualifying games with the top eight moving into a roll-off. Over $1,000 in scholarships will be awarded. The Winona USBC will pay all entry fees for the junior bowlers.
Entry forms for both tournaments are available on the service counter at Westgate.
Last year, Mandi Steffes became the first woman in the local association to carry an average of 220 or more when she turned in a 224 in the Mixers League.
And the way this year is starting off, that record may be in jeopardy. In the first four weeks of the season, Steffes has the top two games (279, 269) and series (748, 707) of the young year.
Lindsay Serwa and Megan Manor have also lit it up to start the year. Serwa blasted a 698 series in the opening night of the Pin Topplers League at Westgate, and Manor tossed scores of 691 and 658 in the Mixers League.
Josh Wenzel certainly knows how to begin the year with a bang. On the first night of the Kickass Classic League, Wenzel rolled games of 290 and 279 to start the evening and finished with a 798 honor count. Teammate Paul Ciszak rolled a 768 a week later. Also over the 750 mark this month was Tim Pozanc with a 758 series in the Legion League.
Aaron Shiroma, Tod Walters and Tyler Brown rolled the first three perfect games of the year. Shiroma enjoyed scores of 735 and 734 the first two weeks of the Legion League, a feat duplicated by Jerry Koutsky (734, 701).
There were a number of firsts in September. Chris Block had his first career 700 series with a 709 in the Legion League. Turning in their first career 500s were Paige Steffes (545) and Melissa Skappel (518).