LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Sylvester Thiel joined an exclusive club Wednesday at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno.

Thiel became the third person in history to participate in 71 USBC Open Championships. He was honored with a short ceremony before hitting the lanes Wednesday night.

“To be honest with you, I never gave this a thought,” Thiel said of his achievement. “I did a lot of bowling, but I never gave this a thought.”

He admitted he was a bit nervous beforehand.

In reaching the milestone, Thiel joined late USBC Hall of Famers Joe Norris of San Diego and Bill Doehrman of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Doehrman’s 71 appearances were consecutive from 1908-81, while Norris started in 1926 and bowled until 2000, when he finished his career with a then-record pinfall of 123,770. Thiel’s first Open was in 1940.

The tournament was not held from 1943-1945 due to World War II. Thiel, 93, was in the Air Force then, stationed in Holland during World War II.

Thiel is from Detroit, where he first picked up a bowling ball trying to emulate his older brother. Now he lives in Lake City, Minn., where his wife, Phyllis, is from.

On Wednesday, Thiel recalled his early days bowling and his rapid progression in the sport he grew to love. He was too young to drink so he had to bowl on a lane separated from the rest of the group.

“I couldn’t bowl with them because they were drinking beer,” Thiel said. “I had to bowl on lane 10, by myself.”

He got a raise at the grocery store he worked at and could soon afford to bowl four games a week.

He averaged 139, then 156 the next year. His third year he go it up to 187.

His average grew to a best of 223. Now he averages 134, bowling once a week.

“I’m happy I’m able to bowl. I have more fun today than years ago,” Thiel said. “I’ve learned to accept my low scores. Before, I was angry with myself that I couldn’t make a spare.”

Then, the owner of the bowling alley put him on a team and his average went up to 193. He soon joined a traveling team and the members became stars in the Midwest.

Thiel said when he competed his 60th Open Championships, his team made him the captain and had him make travel arrangements, in order to keep him bowling. In 1999, his right bicep was torn from using too heavy a ball. His wife Phyllis convinced him to try a lighter ball and keep bowling.

He’s had 27 300 games and two 800 series, 801 and 825.

Thiel said his first 300, in 1949, stands out among his favorite memories. It was in a charity match with local dignitaries and firemen.

“When I shot the 300 with them, they got a hold of me and threw up in the air,” Thiel said, smiling. “I used to have a lo to fun.”

Thiel bowled with several Hall of Famers in Detroit in the 1950s and 60s. He mentioned Dick Weber and Don Carter as being friends back then.

Only 20 bowlers in 112 years of Open Championships history (through 2015) have competed in 60 or more tournaments, with only nine eclipsing the 65-year mark.

Thiel has had some health issues recently. He had a cancerous tumor removed in December, then decided he would not have any more treatments until after the Open Championships in Reno.

“It took a little out of him. He’s not quite as spry as he used to be,” Phyllis said. “But, other than that, he has no pain.”

Norris, Thiel (113,344) and Doehrman (109,566) are three of the 17 members of the tournament’s elite 100,000-Pin Club.

USBC Hall of Famer Bill Lillard Sr. of Houston, an eight-time winner at the Open Championships, tops the event’s career pinfall list with 124,087, which he accomplished in 2015. Thiel enters the 2016 tournament sixth on the pinfall list.

Thiel missed the Open Championships twice, in 1954 and in 1964, both times because he was running bowling alleys and could not find anyone to cover for him while he was gone.

He has been to Reno 13 times and said he likes the area but that it is hard to get to.

“I like it, but it’s very expensive to get here,” he said.

The 2016 tournament will run for 129 consecutive days from March 5 until July 11. There will be more than 40,000 bowlers, plus friends and family, at the NBS.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE