After watching her best friend, Luci Bonneau, lose her painful struggle against breast cancer in 1999, Donna Conners made a pledge to honor Bonneau’s memory in a way that would have a lasting impact.
Sixteen years and $650,000 later, Luci Bonneau has not been forgotten and her memory has never been more appreciated, thanks to Conner’s dedication to do something special.
Most bowling fans refer to it as “The Luci,” but the mixed doubles bowling tournament that Conners created in Bonneau’s memory will reach new heights when it takes place July 31-Aug. 2 at Palace Lanes in Houston.
It is now more accurately called the PBA/PWBA Xtra Frame Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles. In its 16th year, the tournament will feature its largest entry ever, including a large contingent of Professional Bowlers Association and Professional Women’s Bowling Association stars headlining a sold-out field of 256 competitors. Latecomers are hoping for no-shows so they can get into the championship tournament, and Houston-area grassroots bowlers are hoping for vacancies in the sold-out pro-am tournament field.
This year, for the first time, the male and female winners (assuming they are PBA or PWBA members) will earn PBA/PWBA national titles in addition to splitting a $15,000 first prize. And bowling fans around the world will be able to follow the event from start to finish, live on PBA’s Xtra Frame online video-streaming service.
“In 1999, when Luci died, we were talking and decided, let’s run a bowling tournament,” Conners said. “In 2000, I decided I was going to put together an event the way I wanted it to be, with tough conditions, because breast cancer is a tough battle. It was a shot in the dark, and it worked, and it sold out.”
The inaugural event at 32-lane Dynamic Lanes sold out its pro-am tournament for two nights. Conners said the first event raised $7,000 for the weekend. “We thought we had really raised some money,” she said. “So we kept at it, involving vendors I work with at our pro shop, and we reached the outside world when (Storm Products co-owner) Barb Chrisman got involved. From that day forward, Storm has sponsored us every year and we just keep growing.”
Since its inception, “The Luci” has sold out. In previous years, the tournament field was open to 84 teams, bowling on two squads, before the event moved to 44-lane Palace Lanes, which is owned by PBA and USBC Hall of Famer Bill Lillard, after Dynamic Lanes closed. This year, Conners added a third squad, opened the tournament to 126 teams, and immediately filled that quota with 15 additional teams on the waiting list.
“We were going to stay with 84 teams, but those sold out in 24 hours and I’m asking myself, am I going to turn away teams?” she said. “No way.”
Over the years, the tournament originally called the Luci Bonneau Memorial Mixed Doubles has raised approximately $650,000 to combat breast cancer. Until two years ago, all of the money was donated to the Stehlin Foundation, a research facility looking for a cure to breast cancer. Bonneau, a talented bowler and one of the former Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour’s most popular regional competitors, had been treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital by Dr. Stehlin, Conners explained. Two years ago, St. Joseph’s Hospital was sold and the new ownership shut down the Stehlin Foundation, “so we started our own 501(c)3 Striking Against Breast Cancer charity,” she said. “The money we’ve raised is now being donated to The Rose, a Houston-based organization that helps women who can’t afford breast care treatment or mammograms, and the Huntsman Group, a cancer research based in Utah.”
The tournament has never forgotten Conners’ original philosophy. It’s deliberately difficult.
“We’ve made changes in the format to make things tough,” Conners said. “I don’t ever want people to forget what Luci had to go through.
“It’s insane,” she added, referring to the overwhelming support she has received. “Our vendors provide all kinds of giveaways for the pro-am. We have drawings, prizes, a lot going on from the day we start until it’s over.
“My mission statement is that you have to have players to bowl the tournament. If you don’t have the players, you don’t have a pro-am. If you don’t have pro-am, you can’t raise money. It’s all about the players. That’s the rule we live by. [PBA Tour competitor] Dino Castillo organizes the pro-am. Our rule is, if a player entered in the pro-am doesn’t show up to bowl, he/she is fined $500 and the money goes to PBA,” Conners said. “But the players are so involved. They’re great; they make it happen.”
Conners is hoping to raise between $80,000 and $90,000 this year, but “we can only fit so many people into the building at one time.”
Among the all-star cast of competitors entered are three-time winners Shannon Pluhowsky of Kettering, Ohio, and Tommy Jones, a 16-time PBA Tour champion from Simpsonville, S.C.; defending champions Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, Calif., and former PBA Rookie of the Year, Scott Norton of Mission Viejo, Calif.; the husband-and-wife teams of Chris and Lynda Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, and Tina and Stu Williams of Phoenix, Ariz.; native Colombians Clara Guerrero and Andres Gomez, and two-time former winners Shannon O’Keefe (with Bill O’Neill) and Carolyn Dorin-Ballard (with Mike Fagan). The field also includes a number of PBA Tour, PWBA Tour, PBA Regional and collegiate champions as well as past-and-present Team USA members.
For a complete roster of bowlers entered, click here: http://www.pba.com/Tournaments/Regional/3594
To subscribe to Xtra Frame, visit pba.com and click on the Xtra Frame link. Subscriptions are available for three days ($3.99), a full month ($7.99) or a full year (XF Season Ticket for $64.99).
For those who would like to support Conners’ efforts, but can’t attend the event, visit http://www.strikingagainstbreastcancer.org/ to make a contribution online.
PBA/PWBA XTRA FRAME STRIKING AGAINST BREAST CANCER MIXED DOUBLES SCHEDULE
Palace Lanes, Houston, Texas, July 31-Aug. 2
Thursday, July 30
2 p.m. – Open practice session
Friday, July 31
9 a.m. – Open practice session
1 p.m. - C Squad, 8 qualifying games
7 p.m. - Pro-am squad
Saturday, Aug. 1
8 a.m. - A Squad, 8 qualifying games
1 p.m. - B Squad, 8 qualifying games
Top 30 games after 8 games advance to cashers’ round
8 p.m. - Pro-am squad
Sunday, Aug. 20
8 a.m. - Top 30 teams, 4-game cashers’ round
Top 8 teams after 12 games advance to round-robin match play
Noon - Top 8 teams, 8 games round robin match play
HISTORY OF STRIKING AGAINST BREAST CANCER
(LUCI BONNEAU MEMORIAL) MIXED DOUBLES WINNERS
2000 - Donna Conners/Mark Scroggins
2001 - Amy Dillon/Chris Barnes
2002 - Diandra (Hyman) Asbaty/Dino Castillo
2003 - Genie Franklin/Wes Malott
2004 - Krystal Scott/Russ Wilson
2005 - Rachel Perez/Paul Fleming
2006 - Carolyn Dorin-Ballard/Marc Laracuente
2007 - Shannon Pluhowsky/Tommy Jones
2008 - Shannon Pluhowsky/Tommy Jones
2009 - Carolyn Dorin-Ballard/Parker Bohn III
2010 - Shannon Pluhowsky/Tommy Jones
2011 - Shannon Pluhowsky/Tommy Jones
2012 - Shannon O’Keefe/Bryan O’Keefe
2013 - Shannon O’Keefe/Bill O’Neill
2014 - Missy Parkin/Scott Norton