|The 1950’s were ending the 1960’s beginning. Bowling was so popular in the United States that there was a
weekly column of bowling tips and news in almost every newspaper and a plethora of everyman bowling
teams at the arenas.
Officially there were no “professional” bowlers, just a smattering of more well-known company teams who
competed for cash. The most well known of these were sponsored by beer companies, such as Falstaff,
Budweiser and Stroh’s. Perhaps a dozen or so players could actually make enough money at the sport to
have the luxury of not working at anything else. Big names of the day included Don Carter, Dick Weber and
Billy Welu. For all the other bowlers, however, their passion for the sport had to be remain hobby.
Then along came two organizations, each looking to capitalize and broaden the sport’s popularity in their own
unique way: Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) founded in 1959 and the National Bowling League
(NBL) in 1961. The Professional Bowlers Association pointed bowling away from team play toward more
individual competition. It was structured more like professional golf where each bowler paid his own
travelling expenses and contributed to the pot in order to have a chance to win.
The National Bowling League sought to build bowling into a professional team sport on the same level as the
already well-established professional team sports of baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Ten teams
were established across the United States, who each drafted bowlers to their ranks. For the first and only
time, bowlers were offered contracts with a guaranteed salary and all travel expenses paid like any other
professional sport. It was the first opportunity for more than the few to bowl for a living.
Though from the onset the league was given little hope of long-term, financial survival, the NBL was such a
great opportunity, most bowlers jumped at the chance to participate. And so the bowlers came…There were
Carmen Salvino, Steve Nagy, Bob Strampe, Bill Bunetta, Billy Hardwick, Ed Lubanski, Billy Golembenski, Buzz
Fazio and Vince Lucci – to name a few (all of whom today are in the American Bowling Congress Hall of
With the exception of Don Carter and Dick Weber, who were doing so well they didn’t need the league,
National Bowling League had the cream of the crop. There were 10 NBL teams for a total of around 100
professional bowlers – 50 of which were represented the best of the best in the United States at that time.
Those involved with the NBL deserve credit. Organizers put the league together in a mere 1 ½ to 2 years and
had very little encouragement. Nobody gave them even a 10/90 odds of succeeding. But they put their money
on the line to try to give the league a real go. Each franchise owner even committed to building a stadium for
the bowling exhibitions for their team.
In the end, they showed themselves to be underfunded, unable to continue to sustain the losses necessary
until the fan base built to the point that the teams generated the necessary income to stay solvent. The NBL
was gone before many even knew it existed – barely eking out until the end of its first season. However, what
a glorious few months this was for world of bowling. To this day, when bowlers are asked, they will say that
the brief shining moment of the National Bowling League was one of the highlights of their lives.
Nothing like the NBL has been attempted since. The story of this league must not be forgotten. It is captured
in scrapbook format within the pages of this book for posterity and for the reading pleasure of the sports nut.
Let the story of the league unfold before your eyes, of the NBL’s single season.