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Back on the lanes: To be more exact, that’s bowling’s memory lane

The 2019 class of inductees poses for a photo in December during the Marquette County Bowling Hall of Fame ceremony held at River Rock Lanes in Ishpeming in December. From left are Steve Windahl, Diana Windahl, Mike Baumann and Jim Miller, a past inductee representing his son, Jeff Miller of Lake Havasu, Ariz. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)

Yes, it’s been awhile, but finally, my bowling column, which I’d almost forgotten was titled “Splits, Spares and Strikes,” returns to this space today.

I’ve got some catching up to do, but then again, time — and sports page space — is a luxury I have to share with you as this ugly coronavirus pandemic just continues.

The COVID-19, its technical term, has shut down nearly everything — anything that’s open always seems like a pleasant surprise nowadays — and that includes bowling centers in Marquette County and I’m pretty sure all around the state, and likely just about everywhere else in the nation.

So doesn’t today seem like a nice time to take a walk down memory lane? In one way, it’s just a short stroll going back to December, but the Marquette County Bowling Hall of Fame induction that took place at that time represented years, naw, make that decades of experience on and around the lanes.

For the fifth straight year, four area bowlers were inducted at River Rock Lanes on a Sunday just before Christmas, this season coming on Dec. 15.

Jeff Miller drills a hole into a bowling ball for a customer when he was the pro shop operator at Superior Lanes in Marquette in March 2008. (Journal file photo by Steve Brownlee)

A year earlier, five people were part of the 2018 class as the late Dennis Sweeney was an additional Hall of Famer who didn’t bowl in this area, but instead grew up in western Marquette County and moved away to St. Louis just after the turn of the 20th century.

Sweeney made his mark nationally as a founder of the Women’s International Bowling Congress in 1916, helping push the concept of handicap in leagues and was an original organizer of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America in the 1930s.

Back to December’s induction, though.

The four inductees have displayed huge amounts on skill on the lanes over the years.

Starting with the eldest, Mike Baumann of Gwinn isn’t really that much older than his fellow inductees, well, at least the other guys, but it might sound like it considering his accomplishments start back in the 1960s.

Dave Kangas, shown here at the Gwinn Inn in Gwinn, is a past inductee into the Marquette County Bowling Hall of Fame. The latest class was inducted in December which included Steve Windahl, Diana Windahl, Mike Baumann and Jeff Miller. Kangas cashed in multiple Professional Bowlers Association senior tournaments he entered when he was in his 60s, more than 10 years beyond the 50-year-old age limit that tour allows. (Journal file photo by Steve Brownlee)

That’s because he was just 12 years old when he joined the Gwinn Bowling Association, and soon after in his teen years he began his track of rolling the biggest scores and carrying the highest averages in that community.

I remember regularly in the 1990s when I first came to the Journal that we ran a “Remember This” snippet about what happened in area sports history 30 and 60 years ago that day.

For some reason, I remember that after I first met Mike, I kept noticing his name coming up in that column from the 1960s — the 30-years-ago section — when he was being honored as the “teen phenomenon” with another 660, 680 or even 700 series that was the highest bowled in their association for the entire season.

He definitely was the first bowler to roll 700 and average 200 for a season at the notoriously tough conditions of the Gwinn Inn.

Since then, I came to discover that he was a president of a Gwinn High School league and later the Gwinn BA at the time it merged with the Marquette-Ishpeming association.

Steve Brownlee

He also bowled for the Wildcats when he attended Northern Michigan University, lettering twice and being named MVP of the team from 1969-71 as that Wildcat squad had some high finishes in national collegiate events.

He later went on to adult prowess in leagues and tournaments all around the county, helping found several tournament series and winning an astounding 32 Upper Peninsula Match Play and Classic Tour events over the years.

And just to boot, he’s done some youth coaching over the years.

Then there’s Jeff Miller, who couldn’t make the induction ceremony as he moved away a few years ago to Lake Havasu, Arizona, the city where the London Bridge was relocated to in 1971.

He had a pretty good stand-in, though, for the induction. That was his father, Jim Miller, was part of the inaugural Marquette County hall class in 2015.

Because of his family’s involvement, Jeff literally grew up on the lanes as he was a teen when they bought into a bowling establishment.

He not only learned the power game on the lanes that was gaining traction in the 1970s, but he was self-taught in the ball-drilling business. It made a good side business for him, but was also invaluable for Marquette-area bowlers to have someone with keen knowledge to go to for their equipment right up until he moved away.

On the lanes, he rolled the highest three-game series in Marquette County of 825 in 1988 at Westwood Lanes, a score that held up for about seven years until his brother-in-law — and fellow 2019 inductee — Steve Windahl cracked it in a huge way.

At his most recent count, Jeff figures he has nearly 20 perfect 300 games and a half-dozen 800s. And he’s been a member of the local lanes governing boards over the years, too.

By the way, a call to him in Arizona not long before the hall induction revealed that, yes, he’s back to drilling bowling balls in the greater Lake Havasu area now.

Windahl, who I just gave away one of his career highlights, beat Miller’s league record with an 835 series bowling against guess who? — Me! — which came about nine months after he busted all the scoreboard lights out at River Rock Lanes.

When it was still known as Country Lanes, on Feb. 19, 1995, he rolled an incredible 857 in a U.P. Match Play tourney over three pairs of lanes. He put together games of 300, 268 and 299 in a part of the event where he had to have the winning score each game against various opponents, otherwise his day would’ve been done.

The record was widely believed to be a U.P. record and held up as the highest rolled in the county for more than 18 years. But it’s just the tip of his award-score iceberg, as he has a least a half-dozen series of 820 or more among more than 30 300s and 20 800s in his career.

If you’ve ever seen him bowl, his style is both timeless and consistent. I barely remember any changes to it over the nearly 30 years I’ve watched him on the lanes. It’s done him well over the years when he’s encountered tough conditions in pro and amateur tourneys in the U.P. and around the country.

On the service side of the equation, Steve supported youth bowling as the high school coach for the Ishpeming-Negaunee teams for more than a decade.

He’s another bowler in a family of them, as his sons Jordan and Tyler were leading lights on those I-N teams and have each bowled 300s as an adult.

And then there’s Steve’s wife Diana Windahl, who as the fourth inductee in 2019 I had to save for last as she’s the youngest of this quartet.

She’s right in the middle of “family” bowling as stepsister to Jeff Miller and wife to Steve Windahl.

But she’s blazed her own trail on the lanes. The highlight has to be the 779 series she rolled on Dec. 12, 1996, at Country Lanes, which remains to this day the highest women’s series bowled in Marquette County. It included games of 265, 267 and 247.

After doing a little research a few years ago, I was able to say with a good amount of certainty that she held the U.P. record for more than a decade, too.

She’s been a longtime board member of the Snowbelt Women’s and Marquette County U.S. Bowling Congress associations beginning in her teens, including stints as president of each organization.

And she also joined her husband coaching the Ishpeming-Negaunee high school teams for nearly a decade while raising her bowling-talented sons.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal. net.

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