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Robin Romeo

Below: Robin's memorabilia

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Inside a Champion
By Mary Lynly

At 18 years of age Robin Romeo had become the one to watch in the New York bowling arena when her mother Joan and dad Raymond announced that the family was moving to California! The Romeo family lived in Mamaroneck, New York and her mother had an offer to work with a production company in California. Her father had been in San Diego in the Marines and had always had a yen to return to California as he was not crazy about the cold New York winters. After adjusting to the shock and some tearful moments Robin decided she was simply not going. None of this mattered – the family was going without her. There was a little encouragement from her 21-year old sister Debbie who also decided to secede and the girls moved in with their grandmother.

Robin had been bowling since she was six, starting as a two hander under her mother’s wing as league coordinator and the taste of winning started with her first participation in league when her team won the league. She would later often repeat, “Winning never gets old.” At 13 years old she caught the eye of Pro Shop owner Bob Materasso and Journalist Pearl Keller who saw her potential and coached and mentored her and she continued to excel. “Robin was a natural athlete and could have been good at anything she tried,” said her mother. “She swam, she played baseball, tennis, field hockey, she was MVP of her high school bowling team and was always a top performer…but she loved bowling most.” In the early years she would watch her dad bowl and waitress for extra money – so she could bowl. Born with a floating kneecap, this came to light as she participated in more competition. A rabid Jets fan, she was fortunate enough to get an appointment with a noted N.Y Jets orthopedic surgeon who gave her an extensive exercise program to heal it.

Materasso says he was not sure about “natural” as far as ability is concerned. The 85-year old Materasso lives in the Bronx in New York and is still teaching young people because he loves it. A former PBA member and Pro Shop owner, he said the shop was just to supplement his income as Deputy Chief of the Explosive Unit for the Fire Department. He felt Robin could do anything she wanted because she worked at it. If she couldn’t get something she worked and worked until she got it. More than a natural – he said she was an athlete who had the great hand-eye coordination and when she wanted something she went after it.

Robin wasn't very happy to hear her parents had made a concrete decision to move California and she felt upset and a little abandoned because she perceived the family was breaking up and the kids weren't included in that decision. She lived in NY for a Year and then finally gave in and heeded her mother’s words, “You can be a big fish in a big pond or remain a little fish in a little pond,” and she, Debbie and grandma moved to California. It was time to be together again. The Romeo girls were admired by many and proving the point, when Robin and her sister Tori complained bitterly about having to do dishes, an admiring New York boyfriend sent her a dishwasher!

Like many athletes she was superstitious about some things and for years wouldn’t bowl without her Jet socks on. Her father was a big factor in her life and was always with her when she bowled tournaments. Never one to blow her own horn, Robin was always a lady and was gifted with generosity. At the time of the Oklahoma disaster she had won a $10,000 first place prize in a PWBA tournament and little known was that she donated half of her winnings to the disaster victims.

During her years of bowling she has learned valuable things, not only about form and approach, delivery of the ball and arm swing, but keeping your head in the game. According to author and Coach Mark Baker, who says, “I have had the pleasure of being involved with Robin Romeo three different ways through the sport of bowling. First as her doubles partner, second as her bowling coach, and thirdly, she is now one of the coaches of my bowling camp, "Camp Bakes". What can I say about her? Simple, she is a class act!! It doesn't matter if she is competing or coaching, she always gives 100%. People like Robin Romeo are what make bowling such a great game. I'm proud to call her my friend.” She has become an expert at teaching those things to bowlers. She is a believer in helping people to bowl better and currently goes to Mission Hills Bowl in Southern California weekly and for a small fee will coach bowlers.

Robin and her younger sister Tori bowled their share of tournaments together and Tori tells the story that one of Robin’s favorite singers is Meatloaf who sings a song called Paradise by the Dash Board Light. In most of the centers they bowled in there was Karaoke in the bar and one particular night after bowling Robin asked Tori if she wanted to sing the song – an 11 minute rendition yet. They knew the song verbatim but Tori said she needed to shore up the courage with a drink or two and then they launched into it – a male and female part. Tori sang the very animated female part which suited her well and Robin sang the male part. The amazing thing about this spontaneous performance is that Robin has always been a more conservative in control person so it overwhelmed everyone. Who would have believed Robin Romeo was a closet Karaoke buff! It went over so well that the cheering crowd gave them a standing ovation! When the word got out about their performance it became a request at every stop. Tori said when they went back to Oklahoma the next year people didn’t come to watch them bowl they came to hear them sing! When Robin retired from her professional career they surprised her with a party after a doubles tournament and of course – the two gave their rendition of Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dash Board Light.

Robin’s incredible record of accomplishments include: 18 National Titles (including three majors); 12 Regional Titles (WWPB); six Women’s All Star Association titles; four WIBC Titles; seven California State Titles and two state titles in New York. She has 23 sanctioned 300 games and eight 800 series’.

1989 was a bumper year and she was named Bowler of the Year by seven different organizations and publications. She was named to the Southern California All Star team 16 times, WIBC All American Team six times and Bowler’s Journal All American Team four times and honored in seven Hall’s of Fame the most recent being the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

Over the years she has been a committed supporter of women’s pro tournaments and has an unprecedented record 77 finals – consecutive years from 1985 to 1989 and a record 80 cashes – consecutive from 1985 to 1989. Closest to this record is Mark Roth who is in the 50’s. She has been honored for Image – Professionalism and Sportsmanship and was a recipient of the Merle Matthew’s Achievement Award for Outstanding Performance in 1990.

Her most recent win in 2012 was the inaugural Senior Women’s Triple Crown Shootout, presented by the Orleans Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, NV where she defeated Dana Miller-Mackie, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 249-204 in her first match and Lucy Sandelin, Tampa, Fla., 243-208 in the final match. She had recently bested 60 women in the Senior U.S. Women’s Open making her the only woman to win both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open and the Triple Crown gave her the Trifecta. Like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and she gets better. She says she always does better in the tournaments where you have to grind it out because she was a good spare shooter and got very few splits. She says she tries not to pay attention to what her opponent is doing and just concentrates on her game and it has paid off.

Among her special memories was her Doubles win with Jeanne Naccarato. She met another outstanding performer Jeanne (Maiden) Naccarato early in her professional career. They became roommates and traveling companions for 20 years and just prior to 2000 both had lost their fathers. When the Sam’s Town Doubles came around in 2000 they decided they would win it for their fathers. Robin said it was the first time she and Jeanne could bowl together as doubles partners and it was her most memorable win. Her dad was her mentor and she said was having a real hard time bowling after he passed away. Her timing was bad and she had trouble focusing and so on. “The week before we had bowled in San Diego and didn't bowl well so I came home before she went to Vegas for the doubles tournament. I practiced a lot and my ex-husband Bill said, “Why don't you just get up there and throw the ball, don't even get set just pick the ball up and go.” That’s what she did and she threw a lot of strikes, couldn't miss. When she got to Vegas she told Jeanne what the plan was and Jeanne said, “Whatever works.” The rest is history... dedicating the win to their fathers was a great motivator, the most emotional win ever and they knew their Dads were watching.

The two drove to all the tournaments to save on money and said it was much easier to be able to go to the next tournament when they were finished. They had so much fun traveling together and they also traveled with Pros Carol Norman, Barbara Renner, Toni Gillard, Pam Buckner, Tori Carter, Rachel Perez and Lynda Barnes. Jeanne recalls their asking for directions and it was always Robin who would ask. Invariably, Robin would return to the car saying, “I didn’t understand a word he said.” Then, Jeanne would try to decipher the directions. It happened so often it became a standing joke.

In many ways her entire life, has been devoted to bowling and turning 50 hasn’t slowed Robin Romeo down. She says the competitive juices are still flowing. She is a collector of bowling memorabilia and has hundreds of items which, of course include her many awards. Her greatest fans are her boyfriend Tom and her mother. The Romeo family is close but all five kids are independent – a tribute to her parents.

What does it take to be a champion? Perseverance, focus, good decision making, temperament, coordination, and it helps to be a class act. That’s Robin Romeo.

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