May 9, 2003
Don Johnson, another bowling legend, has died and I ponder how I can overcomemy own personal sadness and pay tribute to his colorful life. You would think writing obits would get easier since I probably have written more than 100, some about people I never met but more frequently they have been about people I knew, liked and respected. Those are the toughest.
I still was attending the University of Miami when I wrote my first obit for The Miami Herald's sports section. It was about a high school football coach who I said had died "suddenly." The curt executive sports editor read my story and told me that everybody died "suddenly" and the word I was seeking was "unexpectedly" if the coach had not been ill. The editor also told me that I had written a very flowery story about the coach's life. And then he asked me, “How are you going to write a bigger and better obit when a bigger and better coach dies?'
I never have forgotten that sage piece of advice and it has reverberated through my mind as I wrote obits about Darold Dobs, Eddie Elias, Joe Antenora, Jim Godman, Joe Norris and Earl Anthony in the past decade. There is no way you can do a person's life justice in a few graphs, but I have discovered that maybe you can bring a smile or a tear to someone's face with your special personal memories of a special human being. Sometimes you hit home runs, sometimes you strike out but you never take a called third strike with the bat on your shoulder when a friend dies.
Now it's time to try to wrap up Don Johnson's 62-year life in a few paragraphs. It can't be done so I will share with you a couple personal memories of the Don Johnson I knew.
In 1969, Don Johnson and his wife (I believe her name was Mary Ann) showed up at Hialeah Lanes and were looking for an economical place to stay during the BPAA National All-Star Tournament. I looked at the young couple with their crying infant son (Jimmy I believe) and knew they needed help. So I found a nearby motel that they could afford and then I jumped in my car and showed them the way to the motel. Don Johnson never forgot. And I never forgot covering the 1970 Firestone Tournament of Champions in Akron when Don rolled the famous 299 TV game that resulted in one of the great all-time bowling pictures of a young Don Johnson face down on the approach after his pressurized finals win over Dick Ritger, who rolled a 268 game. Johnson wound up winning 26 times and being name Bowler of the Year twice on his way to both PBA and ABC Hall of Fame recognition.
When I was media director on the PBA Senior tour, I used to marvel at the friendship that Don had with Dave Tuell, Glenn Allison and Robert Kwiecien to name a few. They especially appeared to enjoy playing cards together at every opportunity.
Don Johnson never won on the senior tour. He had a few chances but fell short. Two stick out in my mind. One came just outside Denver where Don made the TV show but because of the high altitude and thin air he was forced to use an oxygen mask between shots. The second came in Illinois where Don lost a possible opportunity for a TV berth when an unintentional incorrect call was made during the position round.
Although Don had won as many titles on the regular tour as Dick Weber, I never could sell America's media on the superb record of Don Johnson. Perhaps the media had lost sight of his great PBA career because Don dropped his PBA membership for years after the PBA made its school mandatory to every bowler - veteran or rookie. Right or wrong, Don Johnson stood up for what he believed. There's no question in my mind that Don Johnson's record with the plastic ball is what helped put Columbia on the world's bowling ball map back in the early 1970s.
Don Johnson was that good, although he always insisted he didn't possess the physical ability of such rivals as John Petraglia or Jim Godman. Maybe Don Johnson only had a bronze body, but he had a golden shoulder, golden arm, golden hand, golden mind and golden game. And he left some golden memories.
High Fives Dangerous to Health
Over the years, several writers have vented their distaste for the bowling custom of slapping hands after shots. I'm not for or against it, but I am going to pass along this letter written to Dr. Paul Donohue in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
Question: "I live in a small town, and I am 80 years old and I bowl at least twice a week. I don't like to slap hands with five or six people every time someone makes a strike or spare. "I think it transfers germs and that's how I got the flu., I had one woman get quite nasty because I wouldn't slap hands with her. She maintains that, as long as you wash your hands when done, it's OK. I think not. Who is correct?"
Answer: "You are right. The hands and fingers are a chief source for the spread of germs such as the ones that cause colds. They may not be responsible for flu transfer, but they do transmit many other germs. Stick to your guns. You have every right not to participate in high-fiving it. Hand washing is protective, but constant hand-washing isn't practical. "Introduce into your bowling head-butting as a sign of athletic accomplishment. If the high-fiver refuses to participate, act offended."
SARS Still a Worry
Bill Chrisman, who along with wife Barbara own and operate the Storm Bowling Ball Company in Utah, offered a few thoughts during the WIBC Convention in Reno about the SARS scare in Asia.
Here is what Bill had to say: "I'm very concerned about it. I was in Asia a few weeks ago but I cut my trip short. Right now in China, business in bowling centers has fallen off because people are not gathering in public places. "If the problem is not solved quickly, there may not be anybody in bowling centers to bowl. "I'm also a little worried about Bowl-Expo in Las Vegas next June. I know that Asians are planning to come to the convention and I think one Asian company is planning to have a booth. But things are very scary over there."
Hopefully, the SARS worries will diminish with each passing day.
Bea Goodwin Leaves Bowling
Bea Goodwin, who made an outstanding bowling name for herself during nine years at the old Showboat and 3˝ years at Texas Station in Las Vegas, has left he bowling business. Bea, who spoke at BowlExpo when it was held at Mandalay Bay in 2001, has taken a position as sales manager for the House of Blues Foundation Room, which does charity work. Ironically, the House of Blues Foundation Room in Las Vegas is located in the Mandalay Bay. Other rooms are located in Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles.
She is eager to face new challenges but adds: "Although I am very excited about this new adventure, I am saddened that I no longer will be active in the bowling industry. Because bowling gave me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who I now call my friends, I will always cherish the bowling experience."
If you want to call Bea while in Vegas, her new direct phone number is 702/632-4775. She will be missed in bowling.