SYRACUSE, N.Y. - March Madness may be over for the Syracuse University men's basketball team, but the excitement is just getting started at the Oncenter Convention Center, where the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships kicked off Saturday.
The first of nearly 40,000 bowlers took to the lanes, and a standing-room-only crowd of friends, family and bowling fans helped welcome the storied event back to Salt City for the first time since 1999.
The opening squad of the 107-day event was led into the custom 48-lane tournament venue by two of the city's most hospitable representatives, Syracuse University mascot, Otto the Orange, and Crunchman, the mascot for the Syracuse Crunch hockey team, the top affiliate for the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Prior to bowling for score Saturday, the 44 five-player teams had a front-row seat to the crowning of "Joe Bowler," a performance from local vocalist/songwriter and past quarterfinalist on "America's Got Talent," Julia Goodwin, well-wishes from local and bowling-industry dignitaries and a formal ribbon-cutting.
The 2018 USBC Open Championships is the 115th edition of the event and marks the tournament's fifth trip to Syracuse. Previous visits included 1935, 1958, 1973 and 1999.
Presiding over the festivities was this year's Joe Bowler, Patrick VanWagenen of Kingston, New York, who made the 135-mile trip to Syracuse for his Open Championships debut.
The 25-year-old right-hander randomly was selected prior to taking the lanes, continuing a tradition that dates to 1951. The honor also earned him the responsibility of throwing out the ceremonial first ball of the tournament, adorned in the traditional cape and crown.
VanWagenen's first shot on the biggest stage in bowling resulted in a ringing 10 pin and officially got the tournament underway.
"This is an honor for me, especially for my first time here," VanWagenen said. "I didn't put it in the ditch, so I'm happy."
The rest of the competitors got in on the celebration by taking part in the Mass Ball Shot Ceremony, a tradition in which a bowler on each lane simultaneously throws a ball.
Three games later, the year's first leaders emerged in the three average-based divisions - Regular, Standard and Classified.
In the Regular Division (combined averages of 1,046 and above), Highland Lanes 1 of Westerville, Ohio, improved as the night progressed and set the bar with a 3,051 total on games of 901, 1,057 and 1,093.
Trent Haughn led the way for Highland Lanes 1 with a 639 series and was followed by Jacob Schroeder (621), Randy Schroeder (620), Jordan Schroeder (613) and James Meyer (558).
The Standard Division (combined averages of 901-1,045) saw #teambruce of Clarksville, Tennessee, emerge as the early leader with a 2,541 effort. The group rolled games of 829, 869 and 843.
Amanda Nielsen was the top contributor for #teambruce with a 549 set, and she was followed by Jeremy Commons (533), Brandon Mills (515), Bruce Wilcox (509) and Troy Roy (435).
Gutter Garage of Burley, Idaho, got to see its name at the top of the Classified leaderboard Saturday after games of 773, 762 and 663 for a 2,198 total. The Classified Division is for teams with combined entering averages of 900 and below.
Matt Blauer set the pace with a 505 series and was joined by Cheyann Blauer (448), Adam Hieb (440), Adrian Vergara (427) and Ainslie Vergara (378).
Competition resumes Sunday morning with the first doubles and singles squad of the year and will run from 7 a.m. until approximately 3 a.m. daily until July 8.