RENO, Nev. – Professional Bowlers Association history could be in the making when the Rolltech PBA World Championship kicks off the PBA’s 36th consecutive season of coverage on ESPN Thursday at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT).
The first prime time weekday evening telecast in 14 years will involve top qualifier EJ Tackett’s bid for his first major championship, No. 2 qualifier Ryan Ciminelli’s bid to become the first PBA player in 44 years to win three consecutive PBA Tour titles, and Gary Faulkner Jr.’s bid to become the second African-American player to win a PBA Tour title. And there’s more:
Tackett, a 23-year-old right-hander and PBA’s 2013 Rookie of the Year, won his only PBA Tour title in the PBA Xtra Frame Lubbock Open earlier in 2015. Tackett earned the top berth for Thursday’s live stepladder finals by pacing the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII presented by Silver Legacy field of 246 players through 66 games of qualifying and match play, contested on five different lane conditions. He’s also trying for his first major. He led the field, but finished second to Australia’s Jason Belmonte in the 2014 USBC Masters.
Ciminelli, a 29-year-old left-hander from Cheektowaga, N.Y., is two games away from becoming the fourth PBA player to win three consecutive titles in the U.S. After winning the PBA Xtra Frame South Point Las Vegas Open in October and the Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open in early November, he can join an elite club. The last time a PBA player won three titles in a row was in 1971 by PBA Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia. Bowling legend Dick Weber did it twice: across the 1959-60 seasons and again in 1961.
A win by Ciminelli also would make him the first player to win three PBA Tour titles in 2015, including two majors, and put him into contention to challenge for PBA Player of the Year honors. Australia’s Jason Belmonte was considered the top contender heading into the WSOB based on his historic third consecutive USBC Masters and second straight Barbasol PBA Tournament of Champions victories earlier in the year.
Faulkner, a 25-year-old left-hander, is a third-year PBA member who had bowled in 27 PBA Tour events prior to WSOB VII without making a TV show. He has won a PBA Regional title, but is trying to become the first African-American PBA Tour champion since George Branham III won the 1996 Cleveland Open. Branham, a five-time PBA Tour titlist, became the first and only African-American to win a PBA Tour title when he won the 1986 Brunswick Memorial World Open. Branham also is the only African-American to win a PBA Tour major (the 1993 Firestone PBA Tournament of Champions).
Thursday’s first match will pit a pair of former PBA Rookies of the Year (Scott Norton of Mission Viejo, Calif., 2010 vs. Rhino Page of Orlando, Fla., 2008) who are trying to end winless streaks. Norton, 33, won his last title in the 2013 Earl Anthony Championship and Page, 32, last won in the 2009 Viper Championship. Both are left-handers with three PBA Tour titles.
● The telecast will feature the ESPN broadcast team of announcer Mike Jakubowski, color analyst PBA Hall of Famer Randy Pedersen, sideline reporter former Miss USA Kimberly Pressler, and special reports from PBA Hall of Famer Marshall Holman plus Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who made his debut in professional bowling during WSOB VII.
● The Rolltech PBA World Championship, with its $60,000 first prize, will be contested in Reno’s National Bowling Stadium, the site of a number of historic PBA telecasts and the bowling arena made famous around the world in the movie, “Kingpin.” The telecast also will include the application of blue-dyed oil, a PBA innovation that allows viewers to see where the oil is applied to the lane.
● The PBA World Championship is the first of seven GEICO PBA WSOB VII telecasts to air on ESPN. On Sunday, Dec. 20, ESPN will air the finals of the PBA Cheetah Championship presented by PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game at 1 p.m. ET. The full schedule of WSOB telecasts includes the following (all times are Eastern):
Thursday, Dec. 17 – Rolltech PBA World Championship (live), 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 20 – PBA Cheetah Championship presented by PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game, 1 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27 – GoBowling.com Viper Championship presented by Xtra Frame, 1 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 3 – PBA Chameleon Championship presented by HotelPlanner.com, 1 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 10 – PBA Scorpion Championship presented by Reno-Tahoe USA, 1 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 17 – 2016 Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship, 1 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 24 – PBA Challenge Finals (PBA-PWBA Women’s Regional, PBA Regional and PBA50 Tour Finals plus Teen Masters Grand Championship), 3 p.m.