Two-and-a-half days before the new year and new decade arrived, one of bowling’s brightest promotional minds passed away.
Jim Welch’s career in bowling spanned several communities and a handful of companies, although he is perhaps best known for stints in Florida, Las Vegas and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. At the time of his passing, he was the Director of Competitive Bowling for Bowlero Corporation.
“Heartbroken over the passing of Jim Welch, a beloved member of the Bowlero Corp. family, the bowling community, and a dear friend,” said Bowlero’s Colie Edison in a Facebook post. Also the CEO of the PBA, Edison added, “It's hard to put into words how much he will be missed.”
Like so many bowling executives of the mid- to late-21st century, Welch, who died Dec. 29 at age 63, started at the bottom and worked his way up. Many long-time friends remember his days as a deskman. But having a highly creative mind meant he was destined for higher positions and greater responsibility. Even though he possessed an impressive resumé of league and tournament development, he always seemed to be working on the next great league format or tournament promotion.
Beginning in 1995, Welch began a nearly 11-year stint with Schumacker and Company as he developed tournament formats, oversaw the operation of events, sought sponsors and worked with local convention and visitor bureaus. During that time, he created the website for the Don Carter chain of bowling centers.
Welch owned and operated the Elite Bowlers Tour at approximately the same time, promoting and operating tournaments for competitive bowlers in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Over a 10-year span, EBT events paid out more than $4 million.
Next came a stint in Las Vegas, where he had management positions at the 72-lane bowling center at Sunset Station and then the 56-lane center at Sam’s Town. He helped bring large-scale tournaments to Las Vegas, often working in concert with Las Vegas Events, including the WTBA World and Senior Championships, Junior Gold Championships, Team USA Trials, TNBA Championships and others.
After managing the 64-lane Sparez in Davie, Fla., for a short period, Welch joined the company then known as BowlmorAMF. He was responsible for creating and executing leagues and tournaments at 10 centers in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and also acted as a brand ambassador in that market area.
“I first met Jim in 2015 when one of our centers (AMF Garland) was hosting the U.S. Open,” recalled Bowlero Corporation’s Director of League Development, Mike Sledz. “As soon as we met, I knew we would get along. We both had a long history in bowling and shared stories about people we both knew in the industry. The one thing that immediately struck me about Jim was how welcoming he made everyone feel. Whether he knew someone for years or was just meeting someone for the first time, people felt comfortable around him.”
“Jim was definitely connected,” Sledz added. “I honestly believe he had a phone number for everyone in the bowling industry. And, more importantly, he was respected. He was as honest as the day is long, and he was truly passionate about bowling.”
Among the projects Welch and Sledz worked on together were the Petersen Classic, Bowlero Youth Championships and Bowlero Elite Series.
Since 2003, Welch served as the volunteer tournament director of the Luci Bonneau Mixed Doubles in Houston, which grew from a grass-roots fundraiser for cancer research into an always-sold-out stop on the PBA and PWBA Tours.
“One of my worst day’s ever,” said “Luci” founder and 2019 PWBA Hall of Fame inductee Donna Conners in a Facebook post. “To someone I admired and shared so much with, I can’t imagine this world without you in it. We love you Jimmy. RIP.”
Welch's obituary in the Dallas Morning News can be accessed here: https://obits.dallasnews.com/obituaries/dallasmorningnews/obituary.aspx?n=james-thomas-welch&pid=194920584