September 11, 2009
By Mary Lynly
We all know him as the journalist extraordinaire at Bowlers Journal but who is Jim Dressel? In the current August 2009 BJ there was an old picture of him with a group of men and I wondered who the guy with all the hair was.
Journalist Jim Dressel has been pounding the lanes for bowling for 34-plus years and is known for asking the hardball questions in interviews. He is turned on by cleverly ferreting out information that no one else could, and when he sees an angle, he’s like an Alaskan Eagle spotting salmon. His interviews and other articles are always revealing and thought-provoking and he says when he spots something that needs to be brought to the bowling public’s attention he considers it his job to do so.
He was born July 29, 1940 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the second child of John and Ada Dressel. This means he’s a Leo in Zodiac terms. Leo, regal lion who is self expressive, self confident, dramatic, dominant and a leader. It also says Leos need to learn a sense of humility and warmth. He attended local schools and said he was somewhat of a whiz in chemistry in high school and thought he would pursue that in college but realized the advanced courses were not for him so he changed his major to Math with a minor in English when he attended Lebanon Valley College. Can you picture Jim behind a saxophone? He played in a regular band and dance band in high school.
He did a stint in the Military and was an actuarial assistant. He got into the Insurance business when he was discharged, and having become involved in bowling also found himself writing some stories covering bowling events. “There’s not much to do in winter in the Midwest or East, so I thought bowling sounded good,” he quipped. Jim rose to a 194 bowling average and was no slouch at golf either with a five handicap before back problems did him in. I asked about surgery and he said, “It only hurts when I Golf or Bowl.”
Norm Edelman, Editor of Kegler Publications liked what Jim was writing and asked him to go to work for Kegler. While with the Kegler, Jim took on the task of a poll of veteran bowlers to determine the best women bowlers of all time. Editor of Bowlers Journal Mort Luby was taking notice of Jim’s work, liked what he saw and talked to Jim about coming on board with BJ. Jim considered Bowlers Journal the premier publication on bowling and was receptive to the offer. It took a year but in 1975 Jim Dressel began his career with the BJ. Some said he wouldn’t last beyond two years but one thing they didn’t know was that Jim Dressel does not like to fail. His passion for Bowlers Journal and his work elevated him to Editor in 1994 and he is in his 34th year with the publication now serving as executive editor. He also wrote a syndicated column for 10 years but decided he needed a change and gave up the bowling column when he switched to baseball (for Tuff Stuff magazine).
So, how did Dressel become the journalist he is? He already had an affinity for writing and had minored in English in college. He liked to read and went in search of material that could help him be a premier writer. He said when he found an author that didn’t put him to sleep — Rudolf Flesch — and read everything he wrote. He anointed Flesch as his writing guru and his passion for the written word developed.
He says somewhere along the line it appeared that interviews were his forte and he enjoys challenging journalistic principles. He also says he probably ticked some people off over the years but always tried to “call a spade a shovel” and get the point across. He has interviewed every industry leader over the years at least once.
He keeps in close touch with his daughter Lindsay, a fifth grade teacher, and he says with a father’s pride, “She’s beautiful.” Lindsay is recently engaged and I wonder if her fiancé has had his interview yet?
I liked his interview in BJ with Jason Thomas and said I thought he liked this fellow a lot. He said he likes guys that are “off the wall.” The interview he did with “Bowling Guru” Bill Taylor was 12 pages in the BJ - appropriate for a fellow like Taylor. He reflects on one group interview he did with Dick Weber, Don Johnson, Earl Anthony and Mark Roth, his idea being to show each of these bowlers at a different stage of their careers, and the difficulty in trying to get four A-type bowlers to settle down for an interview. Jim said he was probably the only one who had the nerve to ask the very powerful Alberta Crowe when she planned to step down after 21 years as WIBC President. Did he actually influence her? Who knows, but she did step down. Jim was the one of the few bowling journalists who managed to get into former PBA President Steve Miller’s world. Miller was known for not letting anyone in. He is most proud of having brought industry leaders and competitors Fred Florjancic of Brunswick and AMF President Phil Knisely together. No small feat to get two busy industry moguls to take the time for an interview but I am sure being interviewed by Dressel meant he would tell it like it was.
Jim Dressel has not been uninvolved. He was president of the Bowling Writers Association of America in 1994 and said he was the one and only president who secured a presidential citation for the Hall of Fame inductees – at that time, it was Anne Marie Duggan and Mark Roth. This takes work. He is currently a mainstay on Bowl.com’s Phantom Radio and the Phantom says, “no one knows more about bowling than Jim Dressel.” He assists Phantom Radio with a quarterly review of what’s happening at all levels of the sport.
He has been much honored for his work with over 40 writer awards. He says he writes for his own enjoyment. Any writer knows how difficult it is to get a column out when you are not necessarily motivated so enjoying what you do helps. Dressel is also the recipient of the BPAA Wapinsky award; Mort Luby Sr. Memorial award (which is the BWAA’s Hall of Fame honor) and most recently in 2004 the John Davis Award.
Like a lot of us, he believes bowling is in trouble and needs a messiah to help it out of the morass. He believes that revitalizing team bowling is the answer to reviving bowling. When bowling was most prolific in the glory years, team bowling was where it was with leagues for every level of bowler and each center had a classic league to aspire to. The classic leagues were always a draw with neatly uniformed teams, good bowling and much competitive enthusiasm. He noted when Pro Bowling came on the scene many of the top bowlers in leagues pursued national and regional tours and it gutted a lot of the house classic leagues. We agreed that the connection that the local associations provided to membership has been squandered. He believes we take too many things for granted in this industry – perception is not fact. The adhesive that kept things together is missing.
We agreed that BPAA Executive Director John Berglund, a unique personality, had accomplished bringing unity to the industry and that new BPAA president Jim Sturm seems to have a good understanding of what needs to be done to grow the sport. Dressel believes bowling must change to get better. How to accomplish this is the $64 question?
It is time for the Power Poll again and I asked if he thought the top power people had actually had any significant affect on motivating the membership. We agreed that the circle of people affected by the group as a whole was pretty much tunnel focused on a few - youth bowling, collegiate bowling, the elite bowler and the pros. Dressel moved from 18th to 13th in the last poll – so, people do think he makes a difference. He thinks the poll depends on one’s position in the Industry.
Although he admits to being the predator when covering stories in earlier years, he says he believes he has mellowed. He’s still opinionated because that’s what people who make a difference are but under that ominous façade and enviable shock of hair is a good sense of humor and a kind heart. He chaired the Flowers for the Living award for 16 years and he is a Founding Member and regular supporter of the Bowling Foundation. He is a sports nut, likes good movies, folk music, walking, reading, a good steak and Italian food and – he loves to write. Oh, and you can throw in a good cigar now and then.
I asked if he had ever considered writing a book and he said his one regret is when Andy Veripapa, who liked Jim’s style, asked him to write his book. Jim was busy and couldn’t take it on. In retrospect he said he should have done it.
When Jim agreed to this interview he said he would probably regret it and most of all he didn’t want me to make him out to be something he isn’t. I hope I made him out to be something he is.
He currently resides in Palatine, Illinois – “a hotbed of bowling” he says listing Tom Kouros and Les and Lyle Zikes as residents. A Dressel fan and regular reader of his articles – I have come to the conclusion that Jim Dressel is the voice of reason. He makes people think.