Matt O’Grady watches his final opponent of the day, Justin Warhol, miss one of the two pins in his seven-ten split. This secures another win for O’Grady, as Warhol finishes with an average ten points below O’Grady’s 237. Another win, and another oversized check to hoist, this time for five thousand dollars. This was Matt O’Grady’s ninth victory this year, at the fourth annual Sandy Catalano Open.
The Sandy Catalano Open was held this weekend Nov. 5 and 6 at Herrill Lanes in New Hyde Park. It was the first time the bowling alley saw a turnout this size for a tournament in its 40 years of existence.
The Sandy Catalano Open was created by his family after his death in 2009, to honor his accomplishments as a person and bowler. The very first Sandy Catalano Open scratch and handicap tournament had over 400 competitors, and paid out over $20,000, $3,000 of which went to three high school bowling students at an awards dinner.
Cash prizes at the fourth annual open were granted to all winners, but the top four garnered the largest prizes – ranging from $1,500 to the top prize, Matt O’Grady’s $5,000 check.
“I’m probably going to pay my mortgage,” O’Grady said with a laugh. “I’m training for the World Series of Bowling that’s upcoming in Reno.”
There were 71 participants in the tournament, and 76 people came to witness the action. Spectators ranged from retirement age to toddlers being held on parents’ knees. A fitting sight, as many of the bowlers they were watching got started at a young age.
“My father used to take me [bowling] when I was three,” Joe Navaro, who came in third place, said. “I didn’t get serious until I was 12.”
Navaro is now 25 and has competed since he was eighteen-years-old.
During the final game, the crowd cheered for each bowler after their every frame. The atmosphere was jovial, and it was hard to tell who was cheering for which bowler. The competitors shook hands with each other after the final frame, and then received congratulations or consolations down a line of people. O’Grady posed for photos with his giant check and new trophy. Despite this seemingly large popularity, the actual participation in competitive bowling leagues has been in the decline.
The annual market growth of bowling is 0.6 percent, according to IBIS World, a research services organization. Families with an income of $100 thousand dollars are shown to have the highest participation rate, also according to IBIS World.
“Bowling is still the most popular participatory sport in the nation,” Mike Pettinella, the New York State USBC Association Manager, said. “However, the number of League bowlers is down.”
Although the number of people who bowl casually and for fun has increased by 10 percent, the number of people who join leagues at bowling alleys has declined by 40 percent, according to IBIS World.
There are about 15 thousand league members across Long Island, Pettinella said.
Those league members vary from as young as 16 to as old as 70. Even though the game is very inclusive, it is also very competitive. With bowling balls costing up to three hundred dollars and shoes up to hundred, a lot is at stake for the grand prize.
“It’s a lot of fun and really scary,” Rebecca Calderon, a competitive bowler, said. “With the amount of money they’re going for, it’s a lot of pressure.”
Many of the competitors were at the tournament because their fathers had started them on the path long ago.
“My father used to go practicing and would take me with him,” Darren Andretta, fourth place winner, said. “‘One day you’ll thank me,’ [my dad] said. It was just a passion. I fell in with it.”
The next tournament Matt O’Grady is training for, the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) World Series of Bowling VIII, is happening in Reno Nov. 28-Dec. 11. The PBA representatives are confident enough in their expected event turnout to offer “fan experience packages” with exclusive Reno hotel reservations. Perhaps this year’s World Series tournament will put competitive bowling back on the map.