Arkansas bowler has memorable 50th appearance at 2018 USBC Open Championships

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Ken Fitzgerald Jr. of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, knew his 50th appearance at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships was going to be exciting and memorable, but he never imagined his day in the spotlight would end with a run at the top of the leaderboard.

Shortly after being honored on the lanes at the Oncenter Convention Center, Fitzgerald and his Fiesta Bowl 2 teammates entered their final frame with a shot at the lead in Classified Team.

Fitzgerald, a 74-year-old right-hander, had the pleasure of anchoring the group in its run at USBC Open Championships glory, and although they came up a few pins short, settling into second place with a 2,409 total, it's always fun to be in the mix on the biggest stage in bowling.

"I noticed they seemed pretty intent behind me when I threw that first ball in the 10th frame," Fitzgerald said. "I knew we were shooting a pretty good score, and I saw what the score was. I had to nail that 10 pin, and I did. Then, I tried to bury one in there. You do the best you can. That's all you can do. It was a lot of fun."

Fiesta Bowl 2 posted games of 737, 840 and 832 to nearly track down Really??? of Katy, Texas, which leads with 2,414.

FiestaBowl(2)2018OCForWeb250x140Simon Landon led the way for Fiesta Bowl 2 with a 529 series and was followed by Fitzgerald (504), Josh Wall (503), Patrick Keyorian (442) and Rick Donovan (431).

The highlights of Fitzgerald's five decades at the Open Championships have been dozens of scenic trips and the opportunity to meet countless bowlers from around the country.

He also enjoyed the chance to compete alongside his father, Ken Fitzgerald Sr., who made 29 tournament appearances of his own. Though his father died last year and was not able to be present for Tuesday's ceremony in Syracuse, he knew what a huge influence he was on his son's bowling career.

"My dad was responsible for me taking up bowling, and it meant a lot for us to be able to bowl together," Fitzgerald said. "I'm disappointed he couldn't be here, but I know he'd be proud. I never thought I'd make it, but it was a goal. It has been very enjoyable, and all the different bowlers have made the journey special. I always invited bowlers when I needed people, the best ones I could find and from all over. That helped me meet a lot of great people."

Since he stopped organizing his own teams for the Open Championships, Fitzgerald joined his current group, which hails from the Chicago area. Since they often shuffle teammates and bring on new bowlers, he actually didn't meet two of his teammates until they all were in Syracuse this week.

Over the years, Fitzgerald has overcome illness and injury to maintain his consecutive participation streak, which began at the 1969 event in Madison, Wisconsin.

One year, a toe injury forced him to cut out the front of his bowling shoe before hitting the lanes. Another time, he bowled with a detached retina, with an OK from his doctor, as long as he had someone help with his equipment, and he didn't lift more than 20 pounds.

He and his family and friends often used the annual event as a chance to explore the United States, and that tradition is continuing in 2018.

FitzgeraldKenJrFamily2018OCForWeb250x140His extended trip from Arkansas to Syracuse has included quality time with family in Indianapolis, a stop at the Indianapolis 500, sightseeing in Kentucky and a double birthday party, before his daughter, Kelly, and grandson, Jacob, joined him on the 650-mile journey from Indianapolis to Syracuse.

The two also joined him on his march to the lanes at the Oncenter Convention Center on Tuesday, where he was presented with a plaque, chevron and diamond lapel pin to commemorate his entrance into the tournament's 50-Year Club.

After bowling, the three are heading to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, after which, they'll make their way to New Jersey to visit with family members Fitzgerald hasn't seen in nearly 30 years.

On the lanes Wednesday, Fitzgerald added sets of 466 in singles and 436 in doubles for a 1,406 all-events total. In 50 appearances on the championship lanes, he has knocked down 77,489 pins for a 174.5 career average.

"I was hoping to make it to 50 after I saw I was getting close, and there has been a lot of anticipation," Fitzgerald said. "I had a bad fall back in November and healed quickly, but, after that, I was a lot more careful and tried my best not to do anything stupid to put this trip in jeopardy."

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