• Independence bowler surprised by USBC Hall of Fame honor

  • George Lafal makes it look easy.

    Bowling ball lifted and elbows kept in as tight as the wings of a bird in a winter storm, Lafal narrows his eyes toward that focal point 60 feet away where the first pin sits. The lanes at Sterling Bowl are quiet except for a lone ringing spare.

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  • George Lafal makes it look easy.
    Bowling ball lifted and elbows kept in as tight as the wings of a bird in a winter storm, Lafal narrows his eyes toward that focal point 60 feet away where the first pin sits. The lanes at Sterling Bowl are quiet except for a lone ringing spare.
    Then, as graceful as that same bird dropping off a branch, Lafal steps forward – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and lets the ball down. The floor seems to grip the ball when it lands, a soft thud echoing off the walls. The ball heads straight but then curves toward center, smashing the pins and collapsing them into what must be, for a bowler like Lafal, a most satisfying heap.
    Turning, he said, “It’s harder than it looks.”
    For a man who has been bowling since he was 11 years old, he’s had the practice. And practice. And more practice. At 66, Lafal has devoted a great deal of time and effort into the game, one that seized his interest as a young boy when his father introduced him to it.
    Like many co-bowler friends of his, Lafal has had many teachers. Once, he worked at Sterling Bowl and, after the lights were put out and the people left, he and Cliff Stewart rolled a few.
    Lafal recalls the moment: it’s 3 a.m. and they flip all the lights back on. In such an environment, the rolling balls must have sounded like thunder.
    “He’d teach you anything,” Lafal said. “And I learned a lot from him. That was a lot of fun back in them days.”
    A teacher is a critical fact of the game, a reality he feels that most people don’t realize or accept.
    “You’ve got to be dedicated – and get a good teacher,” he said, turning around and bowling another strike in what would become a large parade of strikes. “You can’t just pick up a ball and throw strikes one after another. It’s much harder than that.”
    On June 2, Lafal achieved something most bowlers don’t: he was inducted into the United States Bowling Congress. It’s an acknowled- gement that many bowlers bowl for but few expect.
    “Once in a lifetime,” he said. “When they called, I didn’t know what to say. I thought it was the IRS.”
    The award is given annually to one bowler and is based on a culmination of bowling accomplishments, ones that started early in Lafal’s life and, like strikes, followed one after another.
    Consider Lafal’s stats: a 208 lifetime average; 29 sanctioned games of 300 (he’s bowled many more); his highest average for a season (238) was back in the 1970s. He’s won tournaments, most notably the regional tournament held in Sioux Falls, S.D., and two Missouri state championship team events. In 1967, his team recorded the highest average of 1,290, a number that’s been eclipsed as the lanes – and even the balls themselves – have changed over the years.
    Page 2 of 3 - He once bowled two 300 games in one night at different lanes, and he, his son and his father are one of few father, son, and grandfather groups who have all bowled games of 300.
    On the Pro Bowlers Tour from 1972 to 1981, Lafal rubbed shoulders with some of the best. Remember Saturdays on ABC when bowling tournaments followed one after another?
    “I was probably on television a few times,” he said, smiling. “Long time ago. I met so many people and made many friends.”
    Things have changed in the bowling world, too. Lanes are no longer made of pure wood (they’re now synthetic), and balls, once compressed rubber/plastic, are now made of plastic, reactive resin, urethane or a combination. Consequently, the game is different, and Lafal has had to make adjustments.
    Even if the conditions were the same as from when he was a kid or as a young man, adjustments are a fact of life.
    “I bowl with enough people that they know when I’m off my game or doing something wrong,” he said. “Then I just go back to fundamentals and everything’s fine.”
    Lafal describes bowling as nothing more than a dance step, a way of cradling a ball and letting it flow from its possessor and onto the floor with the proper strength and release.
    “Watch your target,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. You have to keep your eye on it from your set to your follow through.”
    As an example, he positions himself straight, lifts the ball, keeps his thumb high in the ball and steps forward – sometimes four steps, sometimes five. The ball flows from fingers and to the floor, making its curve and into the pins. When the dust settled, one pin stands there, mocking him.
    “That’s the best one I threw today,” he said. “You never know.”
    Chris Farmer, whose father owns Sterling Bowl, looked on. Later, Farmer said Lafal’s game comes from his devotion to it and his continuous practice.
    “I’ve known him since I was kid,” Farmer said. “He’s worked on the game all his life that he’s got it down well. He has the timing.”
    As for the game itself, Farmer said it’s a struggle to keep bowling popular. It starts with youth and introducing the game to kids as early as possible. At Sterling Bowl, Farmer and family stress leagues more than they do open bowl, which is what many successful alleys do to survive.
    “Last year was a little better with the youth leagues, but it’s still good this year,” Farmer said. “And adults still love the game.”
    As owner of Independence Classics, Lafal stays busy but he’s very much still in the game. He sponsors a team on Tuesday nights and plays regularly.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Bowling’s gotten me through a lot in life,” he said. “You know, there was a time when I had a temper, but a guy told me to have a good attitude when you win, and a better one when you lose.”

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