SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

Trailblazing female bowler still vividly recalls historic night on York County lanes

BARRY SPARKS
717-505-5403/@ydsports
Wanda Kurka
  • Wanda Kurka was the first woman bowler to roll a 300 game in York County.
  • She achieved the feat on Feb. 9, 1989, at Suburban Bowlerama.
  • Kurka finished her standout bowling career with two perfect games.

It's been more than 30 years, but the memory of a history-making event still burns bright for Wanda Kurka.

On Feb. 9, 1989, Kurka, a 35-year-old right-hander, became the first woman in York County to roll a 300. She reached the magic mark at Suburban Bowlerama.

The magnitude of the event is difficult to comprehend by those who weren't alive at the time. Merle Seibert became the first county man to roll a perfect game in 1936. So, it took 53 years before a county woman duplicated the feat. 

"I remember the 300 remarkably well," said Kurka, who now lives in Florida. "It was a special night, one I will never forget."

Close call boosts confidence: Kurka had bowled for more than 20 years and never thought she would roll a perfect game. In 1988, however, she registered a 299, which boosted her confidence in achieving the feat.

Two standout female bowlers, longtime Dover coach picked for York Area Sports Hall of Fame

"I was very aware that no York County woman had rolled a perfect game, " she said.  "But, I was determined not to let my nerves get the best of me. I needed to keep my wits and get the job done."

"Tremendous feeling" after final ball: Kurka felt incredible pressure as she prepared to deliver the final ball.

All the bowlers at Suburban Bowlerama had stopped and all eyes were on her. But, Kurka had blocked out all the distractions and was focused solely on her final shot. She smoothly released the ball and, as the 10 pins scattered, the center erupted into thunderous cheers and applause.

Like what you're reading?:Not a subscriber? Click here for full access to The York Dispatch.

"Although I fell shy of a 300 the year before, that experience of having 11 strikes in a row definitely helped me. I'm proud I didn't let my nerves get to me," she said. "Rolling a 300 was such a tremendous feeling."

Four years later, Kurka became the first woman to roll a perfect game in Harford County, Maryland, notching a 300 in a tournament. That was her second, and final, career 300.

Stellar career: Kurka wasn't a one-game wonder. In 1989, she held the county women's record for high series with a 767 and was one of the top female bowlers. She averaged over 200 for a number of years, a feat accomplished by less than 1% of women league bowlers in the nation.

She was the captain of the esteemed Brant Vending team, which won the York County Women's Association scratch team title every year in the 1990s. Brant Vending won the Pennsylvania state women's scratch team title in 2002 and finished second in 2001.

Kurka opened the door for other York County women to follow. By April 1997, five other county women had recorded perfect games. They were Barb Benson, Brenda Danfelt, Dori Bowders, Stephanie Whipple and Laura Wolfgang Jameson.

Why the wait? Why did it take so long for a county woman to roll a 300 game? Several factors contributed to that: There were fewer competitive women bowlers compared to men; women have historically lacked a power game; and lane conditions were more demanding.

Today's game is very different than it was 30 years ago. In 1989, county bowlers registered slightly more than 30 perfect games. In early March of this year, county bowlers racked up 13 perfect games, including three by women, in just one week.

Shifting from bowling to golf: Hip problems forced Kurka to end her bowling career in the early 2000s. She channeled her competitive spirit, however, into golf. A 12-handicap golfer, she has recorded five holes-in-one and two club championships since moving to Florida.

Nothing, however, compares to her days on the lanes.

"It was a fun time," she said. "I bowled with some very talented bowlers, who were also good friends. There was a lot of camaraderie and special memories."

Reach Barry Sparks at sports@yorkdispatch.com.