California Bowling Writers

December 18, 2009

Gary Beck – An Answer to Bowling’s Problem?
By Mary Lynly

While some leaders in the bowling world are notoriously ho-hum when someone opines about the state of the industry, Gary Beck sees youth bowling's declining membership and the “what’s in it for me” mentality, and has decided to step up.

His recent paper - 20/23 Vision — tells the story of what he sees as one of bowling's biggest problems today – where organized bowling has been, where it is, and where it’s going. He hopes it will rally the grass roots and inspire commitment.

Touted as a “visionary” by Tom Clark reporting for USA Today in 2002, visions of success have always been a part of the scenario in anything Gary Beck does. He was an effective teacher, excelled in bowling, fathered three productive kids and slowly but surely is making an example of his Teen Masters, his passion and his focus.

Beck has worked in national and international markets creating and promoting events in the bowling world but his sole focus is now on Teen Masters. The event is in its 14th year of competition and gave high school bowling a national television presence this fall. His goal for next year is that the overall winner earns funding for their entire four-year college education in front of a national television audience! He currently has seven national telecasts in the works that will air on VERSUS beginning November 24 and continue through January 27, 2010.

Few have given life to more programs than Beck. Although not every event returned for re-runs, each one has set the stage for an ongoing event. Brunswick, AMF and the PBA have tapped into his talent for creating events that are true experiences.

His goal is, and has always been, to showcase bowling in a positive light. This was his goal for the 2006 Women’s Challenge; pump some life into women’s bowling. Like many, he feels we are still stereotyped as being only blue collar, overweight, beer guzzling, chain smokers. He says we can’t fix the image problem by denying that we don’t have our share of ‘bubba’s and bubbette’s,’ we just have to find ways of showing that other segments of the population enjoy bowling too.

Early in his career he had the opportunity to create and implement a seminar in Denver, Colorado for the headhunting industry called “Fair Hiring Practices” that later received a national award. While the project consumed him, he said his friends saw the fire in his eyes that came from the process of creating something from nothing and they encouraged him with “you should be doing something like that for a living.” Spurred by this, in 1991 he created his first bowling event, the Mile High Match Play Madness and his company Killer ‘B’ Promotions was born.

Is he a purist? He says, “Yes and No.” He created the Teen Masters with “challenging lane conditions” because he believes there should be different results from well executed shots and errant shots and he wanted to create a new generation of bowling who embraced a “pure” or challenging environment over one in which everyone is bowling high scores. In his 2010 Teen Masters, high school participants will be limited to identical equipment in a move intended to place the emphasis on technique rather than technology. Participants will bowl six games on long oil and six games on short oil, with top bowlers bowling an additional six games on mixed pairs, with one lane having long oil and the other short oil. New, is the addition of a collegiate division for 2010 and adds that he is not taking these steps without significant risk. He believes in bowling. He is passionate about bowling and believes there is a direct connection between effort and reward. He sees motivation to get better being stripped away and opportunities to compete in scratch competition rare.

He is a purist in that he will continue to create bowling events and experiences with clearly defined objectives, with most focused on the sport but others for their entertainment value.

In a March 2008 article in Bowler’s Journal titled “Bowling’s Handicapped Society,” Beck asked, “Is bowling’s current plight the result of trying to build a society in which everyone can win and no one can lose?” He points out that there are more not-so-skilled bowlers than skilled bowlers and asked if engaging their interest will help grow the sport? “Maybe initially,” he says, “but in using handicap to make them equal are we doing more harm that good over the long term? In our attempts to cater to mass audience, have we lost sight of what drives participation in sports? To me, opines Beck, handicap and bumpers are a “safety net.” Kids relate to a challenge.”

He was raised in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas, home to Harding University. He graduated from Harding with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a teaching degree. An article in the local newspaper said, “Whether teaching or bowling, former Harding All-American Gary Beck seems to operate at a high level of performance.”

Always the creator, as a teacher, he gained recognition when he created a weather station as a teaching tool that was so accurate it became a complete weather mapping and computer operated station. A local television station used it as one of its metropolitan weather reporting vehicles.

Beck got into bowling to avoid the hot, humid summers in Searcy. A 10-lane, air-conditioned, bowling center seemed like the perfect solution. He dropped out of bowling for several years but renewed his interest in college. He said he was too short for basketball, too small for football and he hated track, so he signed up for bowling and golf as a PE elective. After being encouraged to sign up for the college team, he finished 10th in a 10-man roster. By spring he had moved up into the top five and joined the team at the NAIA National Championships where the team won. He competed in Nationals during all four years of college and in his senior year won singles, doubles, team and all-events and was invited to the US Team Trials. He earned a position on the US Team in 1975 and had the honor of representing the US in the FIQ World Championships in England. The experience tattooed bowling on his heart.

Is Beck a visionary? Hasn’t everyone who has ever been in a leadership position tagged the “creative dreamer” to chair promotional events? These are the people who can get it done – make it happen. There are always pitfalls. Climbing the mountain has always been a slippery slope with not everything turning out the way one would like, but you know the saying, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” Not too many people with the attributes of Gary Beck exist in the bowling world today. If the bowling industry is interested in success, they know the importance of developing youth bowling and nurturing the grass roots who set the stage for developing the passion and the drive to continue as a proponent of the sport. It appears Beck can do this.

Gary Beck has felt the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.” His 20/23 Vision has to be a wake-up call for all concerned. Has he arrived at the right place and the right time and taken a giant step in putting a fire under the bowling world? He’s hoping 2010 will tell.