DETROIT -

Long-time Local 4 viewers know that bowling is one of my passions, and now that bowling alleys are smoke free, it’s a wholesome sport that the whole family can enjoy.

But what you and I do on the lanes doesn’t even compare to what the athletes at Thunderbowl demonstrated this week.

The PBA Tournament of Champions is the world’s most prestigious professional bowling tournament, and what an honor for us to host it here in the official Bowling Capital of the World. I had the privilege of being there for all four days of qualifying, and you can’t even imagine the wear and tear these bowlers had to endure to compete in the first major tournament of the season: 10 games of qualifying on Saturday, 10 more games on Sunday, five more on Monday and, if you then made the cut to the final 24 bowlers, eight more games Monday evening, followed by 16 more games on Tuesday.

Let me save you the math: Those who made the cut had to bowl 49 games in four days! YOU try to do that.

Top Five qualifiers
-- The top five qualifiers for this Sunday's PBA Tournament of Champions final (right to left): Jason Belmonte, Dom Barrett, Wes Malott, Dan MacLelland and Pete Weber.

The five who qualified for this Sunday’s live televised finals show what an international sport bowling has become: Jason Belmonte from Australia, Dom Barrett from England, Wes Malott from Texas, Pete Weber from Missouri, and Dan MacLelland from Canada. Each of these five have compelling stories:

Australia’s Jason Belmonte qualified first with a 243 average over those 49 games, and he’s also the hot, rising star on the PBA tour. He debuted as a bit of a “novelty” for his unique two-handed delivery, but that quickly changed as he became one of the best bowlers on tour. This past Friday here in Detroit he was named 2012-13 Player of the Year, and he’s gunning for his second major tour victory.

England’s Dom Barrett, who I bowled with in the pro-am at last year’s tournament, is not only a great bowler, but one of the nicest bowlers I’ve met on the tour. Dom is a three-time tour winner, including his big win at the World Championship last year in Las Vegas.

Wes Malott is gunning for his 10th tour victory, and his second major championship, having won the 2013 U.S. Open.

Dan MacLelland is the closest thing we have to a local connection in the finals. Dan was born across the river in Windsor, and went to Saginaw Valley State! He now lives in Kitchener, Ontario, and is trying to win his first PBA tour national title! What a place to do THAT.

Qualifying 5th is one of the PBA’s greatest legends, Pete Weber. He's also the Tournament of Champions defending champion, having defeated Belmonte last year for his tenth major title (tied for first on the all-time list) and thirty-seventh overall (tied for third all-time), and has now won bowling’s Triple Crown TWICE in his career. After the end of qualifying, I asked Pete about how special it is to bowl here in Detroit, and he went on and on about our city’s great bowling history. If he climbs the ladder from 5th and wins this tournament, it will undoubtedly be one of the most meaningful of his career. Oh, and did I mention that Pete is 51 years old, and still beating the “kids?"

Interview with Pete Weber

There were a number of wonderful storylines I saw over the past few days, and I’ll summarize them below:

Patrick Allen withdraws and allows Saginaw’s Tom Smallwood to make the cut:

I’m a huge sports fan, and follow most sports in some capacity, but I saw a display of sportsmanship this week that rivals anything I’ve ever seen before in ANY sport. Patrick Allen, from Wesley Chapel, Florida, grabbed the 24th and final position qualifying for match play, with Saginaw’s Tom Smallwood finishing 25th. However, the tough grind started taking its toll on Patrick’s right knee. He could have still bowled match play and tried to make the TV finals, but the prospects for doing well in the final 24 games were slim, so he withdrew, knowing that it would be so meaningful for Smallwood to compete for a major title here in his home state. I talked to Patrick afterwards, and he said the decision was a no-brainer. I truly admire him for what he did for Tom Smallwood.

Women competing against the men:

Bowling is the only professional individual sport in which women can compete directly against the men (even in running, there is a men’s category and a women’s category, despite both genders competing at the same time). Three women qualified for this year’s Tournament of Champions: Liz Johnson from Cheektowaga, New York, Kelly Kulick from Union, New Jersey, and Missy Parkin from Laguna Hills, California. In 2004, Missy was the first women ever to join the PBA, thus paving the way for other women to compete against the men. In 2010, Kulick became the first woman ever to win a PBA tournament, and did it in a big way by winning the Tournament of Champions! While none of the three woman made the cut, I watched them all, and they certainly are impressive bowlers.

Carmen Salvino was here!

Eighty-year-old PBA bowling legend Carmen Salvino came to Allen Park and competed, and his last place finish didn’t matter. What mattered was that bowling fans had a chance to see professional bowling’s great ambassador. Carmen is an engaging man, with a smile to match, and boy can he tell a story, or two, or 12. I had the privilege of chatting for over a 1/2 hour with Carmen, and I was mesmerized. Most amazing is that, although Carmen went straight from high school to the PBA tour and never attended college, he taught himself chemistry and physics decades later, and now coordinates the chemical composition of the newest bowling balls being produced by Brunswick!

Carmen-Salvino-and-Paul
-- PBA legend Carmen Salvido was a hit with fans all week. Here he is with me.

The PBA league:

Although it takes a back seat to the prestigious Tournament of Champions, the PBA is pulling double duty here with some PBA League competition. Six teams of PBA pros representing Detroit, Los Angeles, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the Southern California resort community of Silver Lake will try to take down the defending champion New York City WTT KingPins in a unique series of head-to-head, single-elimination matches featuring singles, doubles, trios and five-man team matches.

The opening match of the new season will pit L.A. X, led by Australia’s Jason Belmonte, against the BROOKLYN STyLES, led by Sean Rash, at 5 p.m. this Saturday at Thunderbowl. At 8 p.m., Pete Weber and the defending champion KingPins will take on our Motown Muscle, with Mike Fagan in the No. 1 role. Then on Sunday, Chris Barnes and the Silver Lake Atom Splitters will meet Norm Duke and the Dallas Strikers at 7:30 p.m.

PBA League coverage continues Monday at 1:30 p.m. with the battle of Pennsylvania: Bill O’Neal and his Philadelphia Hitmen vs. Osku Palermaa and the Pittsburgh Jack Rabbits, followed by two semifinal round matches. The L.A. X - STyLES winner will meet the KingPins - Muscle winner at 4:30 p.m. followed by the Atom Splitters - Strikers winner vs. the Hitmen - Jack Rabbits winner at 7:30 p.m. The two semifinal round winners will advance to the Elias Cup Finals in New Jersey.

Tickets are still available for PBA League play, but I hear that the Tournament of Champions final is nearly sold out. If you can’t make it to Thunderbowl in Allen Park, the finals will be televised live on ESPN from noon to 2 p.m. this Sunday.

Jason Belmonte
-- Australia's Jason Belmonte qualified first with a 243 average and is trying to go "wire-to-wire" for the Tournament of Champions title.