BY BOB JOHNSON, BJI Senior Editor
Most of the bowlers competing in the 51st QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup this week are rolling balls that have three holes. But when they’re not on the lanes, many of them are enjoying smaller objects that have only one hole — donuts.
Within the walls of the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas, you can’t walk much farther than the distance between the Dunkin’ Donuts shop and the entrance to the Sam’s Town Bowling Center.
Even so, many World Cup contestants have been making that lengthy trek — some daily, some even more often — for a quick pick-me-up, be it a sugar-packed confection or a caffeine-infused cup of coffee… or both.
Roger Gillett manages the donut shop, and says he has enjoyed talking to so many bowlers from so many different countries. His is not a cursory interest, as a typical “What do you do for a living?” conversation would suggest. Up until the late 1990s, Gillett was a bowler, and a pretty fair one at that.
“I was born in Texas, but grew up in Madison,” he says of Wisconsin’s capital city — and one of America’s great bowling cities. “My mother was a bowler, and when I was young, I went with her to Bowl-A-Vard Lanes every Tuesday morning and every Wednesday evening for her leagues. She introduced me to junior bowling, and every Saturday morning, I’d catch a bus to Bowl-A-Vard. A 10-year-old could do that in those days.”
Gillett recalls that his first bowling ball was black with a white smiley face on it.
“I loved it immediately,” he says of the tenpin game. “I think what made it so attractive was that every frame was [like] a new game. No matter how bad I did in the last frame, I could fix it. I learned very young that you’re not really bowling against another person or another team, but against the pins.”
By age 11, Gillett was averaging 120. Over the next few years, he improved to 150. By the time he was 18, his average was up to 190.
Then he joined the Marine Corps, and his “bowling career” was put on hold as he spent eight years stationed in Yuma, Ariz.; Buford, S.C.; Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas; Iwakuni, Japan, and the Philippines.
When home on leave, he’d bowl in Pro-Am tournaments in the area, and often made a few hundred dollars just in side bets.
He got back into the game following his discharge, and averaged between 200 and 210 until he had to give up the game 14 years ago when he tore the hamstring off the bone of his left (sliding) leg.
“I worked at Bowl-A-Vard for a while,” Gillett says. “I opened and managed the restaurant there, and also catered the banquets.” Of course, the restaurant featured a Friday Night Fish Fry, a Wisconsin culinary staple.
Through the years, he has worked in fine dining establishments, diners and even a snack bar inside a cattle auction house. He once owned three restaurants at the same time, but says he grew tired of the paperwork and “paying about 70 percent in taxes.” He says managing a Dunkin’ Donuts shop is the most fun job he has ever had.
“It’s great because you get instant feedback from your customers,” he explains. “You hand them a donut, they take a bite, and their face tells the story. If it’s not a smile, I have an opportunity to fix it right away. If you don’t have happy customers, you don’t have customers.”
Gillett says he has seen a good number of smiles on the faces of World Cup bowlers this week, and he has enjoyed interacting with them.
“A lady from St. Croix came in one day, and the next day she came back and remembered my name without looking at my name tag,” he says. “That was pretty cool. She told me there was a bowling alley on the island — it wasn’t very big or very good, but it was there.
“There was a gentleman from Qatar who came in and asked me how I liked having all these people here,” Gillett adds. “Even though he didn’t speak much English, he was interested in me, and even wanted to know if I bowled.
“Then there was a gentleman and a lady from Jordan, who gave me a pin,” which Gillett promptly attached to his hat.
As for an overall impression of the World Cup bowlers he has encountered, Gillett says that they “seem happier than the bowlers I used to bowl with. I asked one how he bowled, and he said, ‘Not as good as yesterday.’ I asked him if it was [because of] the lanes, and he said, ‘No, I just didn’t bowl good.’ When I was still bowling, it was unusual to hear anyone take responsibility for their bad bowling. It was always the lanes.
“Plus, there are people from countries that are mortal enemies, and they’re all getting along. When you take the politics and the media out of it, we’re all just people.”
Although the World Cup never has been held in one country in consecutive years, Gillett would love to see the event return to Sam’s Town in 2016.
“I hope to hell they bring it back,” he says. “The people are wonderful, and it’s fun meeting people from places I’ll never be.”
It’s also fun to see a smiling face after one of the bowlers has bitten into a blueberry crumb cake donut.
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The fields have been cut to 24 each in the men’s and women’s divisions, and those bowlers will roll an additional eight games Wednesday morning. Based on 32-game totals, the top eight in each division will advance to round-robin match play on Thursday, to be followed by the stepladder finals. For regularly updated tournament standings and more, click here.