By John Bassetti
Professional Bowling Association Central Region manager Bobby Jakel is probably the best example of the Hubbard Open success story.
“I’ve got to go out and get something for dinner,” Jakel said as he sat in his laptop shop within feet of spectators and bowlers prior to Friday’s clinic and high school pro-am at Bell-Wick Bowl.
Standing 6-foot-7, Jakel makes the acronym PBA stand for Pretty Big Appetite.
Jakel and many others are feeding the local economy while they’re in the area for the 2014 PBA Trumbull County Tourism Bureau Central/East Open presented by DV8 — a.k.a. the Hubbard Open.
The fourth annual tournament started this morning at 9 a.m. with a squad of 61, followed by another 65 during the 3 p.m. squad.
“The participation’s been impressive,” Jakel said of the 126, which represents a steady increase starting with 100 each of the first two years and 108 in 2013.
While a handful of the 126 are PBA Tour regulars and the majority are regional members, 25 bowlers in this weekend’s field are guests. It’s designed to encourage growth.
“We’re trying to effectively increase the membership,” Jakel said.
“It could always be better,” he said of approximately 3,000. “If we can get that back up to 4,000-4,500 that would be great.”
One of the difficulties Jakel has found in his job, which he’s done for 7 Ω years now, is finding new centers to host regionals.
“There’s a lot more [local tournaments] going on, so, in terms of scheduling, it’s become very challenging, at times.”
Not only for Jakel, but for his sport in general, perception is another problem.
“It think it actually surprises a lot of people when they try to do it,” Jakel said of the average league bowler. “A lot watch it on TV, but when they come out here and bowl against these guys, I think they’re in for a very rude awakening. Anyone can shoot a 220 game once in a while, but to bowl when the lane conditions are difficult usually elicits the response that ‘maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was.’ That’s good, though, because it makes people realize how good these guys are.”
In his travels, Jakel also finds that the PBA faces a challenge exposure-wise.
“Coverage when we go to certain places that host PBA regional events could be a lot better,” he said. “A lot of people think that bowling isn’t newsworthy, but they couldn’t be any more wrong. Bowling is the largest participation sport in the world and why it’s not covered by our media is really a shame.”
Online streaming should boost interest and an event such as the Hubbard Open is an example.
“I think it’s the way of the future,” Jakel said of PBA.com’s XtraFrame vehicle. “A time may come in the future when all the events will be streamed, so you’re going to watch your favorite bowlers at any time on a webcast.”
Although Hubbard Open’s 2011 winner, Ryan Ciminelli , is missing the tournament for the first time because of an overseas commitment in Kuwait, PBA Tour bowlers Ryan Shafer, Eugene McCune and E.J. Tackett are competing.
Along with Bell-Wick proprietor Francis Zitniik, Hubbard Open co-host Jim Bryant of Liberty has been working since last year building on his base of sponsors and pro bowler contacts.
The bulk of sponsors are those originals, such as Panera, Lawns Etc. and Dr. Jeffrey Patterson.
“It’s pretty reasonable what they [businesses] get out of the package,” said Bryant, who noted that Ron’s Sign Shop of Hubbard did the sponsorship signage visible at Bell-Wick.
“Sponsors know it’s good for the community and it helps the kids, too,” Bryant said of special events, such as Friday’s high school pro-am. “That’s been real successful. Any time a high school kid has a chance to bowl with a pro is a lot of fun.”
Of the Hubbard Open’s spillover benefit, Bryant said: “It brings a lot of people from out of town into the area. They’re buying their lunch and dinner at local restaurants and staying in hotels. It’s a big boost to the economy.”
As a venue, Bell-Wick is as good as it gets at the regional level.
“It’s perfect for what we do,” said Bryant. “As far as regionals, if it’s not the largest field-wise, it’s one of the largest in the country. A lot of it has to do with the time of year and it being the beginning of the season. There are a lot of guys eager to bowl and, because we’re on the border [Ohio-Pennshylvania line] of the Central and East regions, it’s a combined event that draws from both sides. That’s how we get a large field.”
Hubbard is the first singles event among regionals, following a senior event in Galion last week and an over 50-under 50 team event in Cuyahoga Falls in January.
Bryant said that this weekend’s first-place check should be approximately $3,000, which is $300 more than last year’s winner, Joe Ciccone, took home.
“The larger the field, the larger the prize fund,” Bryant said.