Early rejection spurs Don Smith's Hall of Fame career
Some athletes get cut from a team and use the experience as motivation for their next attempt to crack the lineup.
However, one of the newest members of the York Area Sports Hall of Fame chose a different route.
Cut from his high school basketball team, Don Smith, 64, changed course and chose bowling because that sport offered him an avenue to better control his athletic future.
“Back in my high school days, I can remember being cut from the basketball team. It was something that drove me to an individual sport,” Smith said. “No one could tell me that I couldn’t play, or that I had to sit the bench, or was cut from the team. It was all up to me.”
Smith then turned to one of his earliest passions, bowling. It would prove to be a great decision.
From there, hard work and dedication would serve as a central theme throughout an illustrious career that saw him win numerous tournaments and even compete at the Professional Bowlers Association level.
Smith will be inducted at time and place to be determined alongside basketball player/coach Parrish Petry and longtime area boxing trainer and promoter Julio Alvarez.
This will be Smith’s third induction into a Hall of Fame. He’s already a member of the York County Bowling Hall of Fame and a rare first-ballot selection to the Pennsylvania State Bowling Hall of Fame.
He’s spent 45 years as a member of the York County/Adams County Bowling Association, and has also been a member of the Professional Bowlers Association since 2007. Smith is five-time scratch champion in the Pennsylvania State Bowling Association State Senior Tournament in singles, doubles or team events. He also owns a dozen York County crowns in scratch singles, doubles or team events.
Smith has won more than 100 events in his career, has 37 300 games and rolled an 800 series 10 times.
Before his enshrinement, Smith took time recently to field a few quick questions related to his career on the lanes:
Who were some of the major influences in your bowling career and what lessons did you learn from them?
“I started out in junior leagues at the old Hanover Bowling Centre. Glenn Bair (longtime owner of Hanover Bowling Centre) and also my father were some of my earlier influences,” Smith said. “My father, he was more of a recreational bowler and I gained an interest by going with him at a very young age.
“He would bowl two nights a week and I created an interest for the game there. As I got a bit older, in high school, I joined junior leagues; and that’s where I met the Bair family. Glenn has since passed away, but his sons Mike (a former professional bowler), Greg and Steve, they were very influential in teaching me the game, just as Glenn was, and that’s where I got my start.”
What moment, or moments, stand out as your favorite?
“My high series, I can remember that, my high series in Hanover one time was 843. That meant a lot to me,” Smith said.
Smith also spoke highly of a trip to the United States Bowling Congress National Tournament in 1979. It’s an event that annually attracts more than 30,000 competitors. He finished a career-best fourth in the singles event.
Smith even spoke of a flirtation with the professional ranks.
“I was about 55 at the time, and I had always had the urge to bowl professionally,” Smith said. “I bowled some senior events, and I bowled one of the national senior events and my best was a second-place finish one year at regional event in Pottsville.
“I also had a 300 game in one of the PBA events, which was a thrill. And just winning tournaments. I was always very active, not just in league play, but in a lot of tournaments. Generally, I went somewhere just about every weekend.”
He would often travel as far north as New York and as far south as Virginia for events.
Are there any single rolls you missed in your career that come to mind as one you would like back?
“Yes, there is one,” Smith recalled quickly with a chuckle. “I was bowling in a tournament, a PBA regional in Turnersville, New Jersey. I led the tournament in qualifying, and we got down to the last four bowlers and I needed a strike to beat this guy, Sam Maccarone. He’s always been one of the top players, he won national events. Back in the day, when the PBA tour was on Saturday afternoon on ABC, Sam made a couple of those shows.
Smith said the two were tied after regulation and then entered a one-ball roll off. Maccarone recorded a strike and Smith left the 10-pin on his attempt.
“I still kick myself for that one,” Smith said. “I could have beaten him if I threw a strike on that ball and he ended up beating me by a pin that day. And when I think back, I think ‘That’s the one that got away.’ If I was ever going to win a regional that was the one I should have won.”
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from bowling?
“I wasn’t always blessed with the best talent of those around me, but I took what talent I had and I practiced a lot, sacrificed a lot. If there’s a lesson, it’s with hard work you can make yourself into something and reap the rewards. And if there’s a lesson I can give to a youngster, it would be that, through hard work, you can achieve a lot.”
Learning that sometimes it’s best to just have fun was another lesson.
“Camaraderie, I’ve always enjoyed the team and individual aspect of it. The team aspect of it, bowling with your friends,” Smith said. “It can be a serious sport if you make it that way, but it’s also an enjoyable sport and some nights you just have a good time and enjoy it."
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.