With the 45th edition of the Staten Island Singles Classic right around the corner, former champion Bobby Garzone couldn’t help but reflect on the prestigious event, which was created by Donnie Walters, one of the names synonymous with Island bowling.
“Back in 1978 (the inaugural tourney), there weren’t many, if any, singles tourneys, at least none that proved to stand the test of time,” said Garzone, a former Islander, who now resides in Florida. “I was just finishing my years with the US Navy. I was fishing around for a new career which had me doing many different time shifts.
“Donnie was my neighbor for decades but I got to know him much better seeing him when we worked the same hours. He encouraged me to ‘step up my game’, and competing in the Staten Island Singles Classic was the best way to do that.”
Garzone failed to qualify for the inaugural tournament’s finals held at the now-defunct Knotty Pines Lanes, but the next year, he qualified 15th and won in a tough championship match against Frank Parello.
“It was a Saturday afternoon that turned into Saturday night and I was so proud to hold a pretty large darn trophy,” remembered Garzone. “I stopped into Knotty Pines the next morning because Donnie ran his Sunday morning men’s league there, and when I walked in, it was kind of quiet but owner Eddie Nocerino walked over to the P.A. system and made the announcement and then there was some cheering and a few well-heard boos.
“Parello was always a crowd favorite. From there, I realized, and maybe others did as well, the prestige that came with winning one of the two major Staten Island tourneys was what Island bowlers wanted to experience themselves.”
The righty-throwing Garzone thinks it’s the credibility, honor and the pride that has been luring bowlers to the SISC.
Garzone’s shining moment in the tourney was his lone title in 1979. But he reached the Top 16 and then the Top 24 finals of the tourney in five different decades. For a time, Garzone was the tourney’s all-time leading money winner.
Some of his other tourney highlights were winning two rounds before losing to Joe Radicella Jr. two days after breaking his left arm in the 1980s; then in the mid-1990s, he shot an 802 (including a 12-pin handicap), to claim the top seed heading into the finals.
“I was looking at the Top 16 list. The last qualifier, who I thought would be an easy mark, had given the wrong handicap and was eliminated, and the alternate, Carmine Proietti who was really coming on strong moved into the 16th spot,” said Garzone. “He soundly took advantage by tossing a 258 game to beat me.”
Although Walters still attends his tournaments when he’s feeling healthy enough to get out, he gave up his duties as tournament a couple of years back to Mike Ruffe, who has done an admirable job keeping the Island tradition operating smoothly.
Garzone says the tourney’s success, popularity and longevity should be attributed to Walters.
“Donnie is a longtime friend, neighbor, and has done so much for our bowling community,” said Garzone. “It’s hard to imagine where the local sport would be today. He’s an amazingly dedicated, good and decent man.”
As for the bowlers who are competing this year and the years to come, Garzone has some wise words “Please savor the Don Walters’ Staten Island Singles Classic,” he said. “It has such a rich heritage and with this being the 45th anniversary, there’s a lot of history among the local bowlers, some whose legacies lie within.
“The amazing journeys the tourney had to take to remain prevalent — Knotty Pine Lanes, Strike City, Bowling on the Green, Colonial Lanes, Showplace and now Rab’s Country Lanes– nothing lasts forever. So to the young guys, leave your legacy!”
Qualifying in the 45th SISC will begin April 1 at 1 and 3 p.m. at Rab’s. Qualifying continues April 2 and April 8 with squads set for 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on those days.
The Top 24 finals will be contested April 15 at 1 p.m. The finals will be comprised of the eight squad leaders, other top series rollers, plus the top female and top senior (50-and-over).
Entry fee is $65. Pre-paid keglers who compete in the first squad on April 1 at 1 p.m. will receive a second squad for $20.
Handicap is 60% of a 225 average.
Mickey Endress is the defending champion.