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April 23, 2014

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RON KANTOWSKI:

Bowlers’ mecca pops up, will soon go poof

Alleys for tens of thousands of amateurs in tourney a feat of construction, deconstruction

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Steve Marcus

Jim Osdale, left, and Brent Pfluger set up an automated scoring system last week at Cashman Center. The exhibition hall has been rapidly transformed into a state-of-the-art bowling center for the United States Bowling Congress’ massive amateur tourney.

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  • Matt Cannizzaro, the media relations manager for the USBC Open Championships, talks about how excited the USBC is to be in Las Vegas.
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  • Cannizzaro talks about why locals should watch the tournament.
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  • Cannizzaro on what's impressive about the tournament.
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  • Cannizzaro talks about his dream job.
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If necessity is the mother of invention then the temporary bowling arena at Cashman Center is the mother of all inventions.

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Or the mother of all necessities.

Put another way, 17,000 five-player teams comprising 85,000 participants already had paid the $150 entry fee to roll strikes and spares in the 106th United States Bowling Congress Open Championships. So it wasn’t a matter of “if we build it, will they come?” They were coming anyway.

But to witness Cashman Center being transformed from an empty exhibition hall into a world-class bowling center in 45 days is more remarkable than watching somebody named Earl or Walter Ray roll a 300 game on TV (there have been 14 of those, but none since 1999).

“This is it,” said Matt Cannizzaro, the media relations manager for the USBC Open Championships, which begin Feb. 21 and will run through July 24. That’s right, July 24. Or 154 consecutive days of bowling, a record for this event, which began in 1901 when 41 teams gathered in Chicago.

That’s a lot of strikes, spares, splits and finger blisters for one man to keep track of, but basically that’s Cannizzaro’s job. (Although, if the truth be known, he won’t be paying nearly as much attention to the blisters.)

This is it, all right. The Super Bowl of amateur bowling, only without the holding penalties and flowers in a box.

We were standing in the vicinity of lanes 19-20, or roughly the same spot where my wife and I purchased a “show special” Jacuzzi (meaning we had to figure out how to get it home) during one of those home shows at Cashman Center a few years back. There are 60 lanes in all, which may not be the biggest bowling center in town, at least before you factor in the high ceiling.

But in terms of cubic feet, I am quite certain that 60 lanes with a ceiling taller than the Sistine Chapel makes the temporary USBC Open Bowling Center the Big Lebowski. In terms of alleys, this one is even bigger than Kirstie before Jenny Craig.

It cost about $2 million to build, most of which the city and its sponsors wrote a check for — a small price to pay for the $75 million to $100 million organizers say the tournament will generate in local economic impact.

Next to the wide expanse of bowling lanes — there was dusty hardwood just as far as the eye could see Thursday when Cannizzaro showed me around as workers continued to pound away — the most impressive feature of the Cashman Center bowling arena is the new state-of-the-art scoreboard.

The scoreboard is so huge it had to be assembled in Albuquerque and transported here. JumboTron, meet MegaTron. The Godzilla-like scoreboard features enhanced graphics and is capable of displaying 4.4 trillion colors, or one for every Dennis Rodman hairstyle. It doesn’t breathe fire, but they’re working on it.

With the exception of pool tables and a cigarette vending machine, the Cashman Field bowling center will be full service. When I asked the question that had to be asked, Cannizzaro directed my attention to a structure in the upper far corner of the exhibition hall, where workers were installing a keg tap.

Yes, there will be a training table for the bowlers.

“There’s enough material here to build five three-bedroom houses, at least,” said Cannizzaro, adding that the USBC hopes to find a local charity that might be interested in building five three-bedroom houses, or at least putting the abundant raw materials used in constructing the temporary facility to another good use.

Other than the bowling lanes themselves, which will be resold (probably to a Tuesday Night Mixed Doubles league in Milwaukee), everything must go. And it must go in a hurry, once the tournament ends. Provided it ever does.

Whereas the 40-man crew of contractors and builders had 45 days to build the center, it will have only 10 to 14 days to take it all down.

That’s when the bulldozers will be called in. If you want to see the pins fall (not to mention the pro shop and those sponsor booths), just wait until Team Caterpillar arrives.

As Cannizzaro put it, “We’re a little less gentle on the way out than we are on the way in.”

Ron Kantowski can be reached at 259-4088 or at [email protected].

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