Joseph Leiser is part of a pretty elite club.
The Gainesville resident was honored for bowling in 50 U.S. Bowling Congress’s Open Championships. He joined a group of only 204 men who have reached this milestone in the USBC’s 130-year-history.
But Leiser never aimed to attend 50 national tournaments.
“I don’t know if I ever consciously said I’m going to make it to 50, 50’s my goal or 60’s my goal or 70’s my goal,” he said. “I don’t think there was ever a conscious thing.”
But his first tournament appearance was. Leiser was 19 when he attended the USBC in 1966 in Rochester, N.Y.
Since then, he has only missed one tournament. It was in 1967 when he was in college at the time. Leiser said his father wouldn’t let him attend, because he felt it was more important for him to focus on school.
Now, Leiser bowls once a week in a doubles league at Stars and Strikes in Buford.
“Yes, I do like it. Yes, I do still enjoy it. Yes, I do still get upset when I don’t bowl well,” Leiser said. “I still like to be competitive, but I am not a bowl-for-blood-type person.”
Leiser, 69, started bowling when he was 5 years old and has been doing so the past 64 years.
“My dad and uncle were very involved in bowling,” Leiser said. “My dad got me into it.”
Leiser continued to bowl and joined his first league, a junior league, around the age of 12.
In 1966, it was his father who encouraged Leiser to bowl in the USBC tournament. They didn’t bowl on the same team, but both men participated. Leiser has continued the tradition ever since.
“I think at this point, it’s just that I’m so used to it,” Leiser said of continuing to participate in the tournament. “Early on, when I used to bowl with my dad ... we used to have friendly competitions.”
Those friendly competitions helped Leiser improve his game and win a tournament or two.
“I was fortunate that when I was young I won a few college tournaments and had that really good USBC tournament and won a Syracuse city title,” Leiser said. “I was like, yeah, I think I’ll bowl next year, I think I’ll bowl next year.”
Leiser bowled for Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., and has bowled high games of 300, 299 and 298.
”With the exception of 1967, which was in Miami, I haven’t missed one (USBC national tournament),” he said.
From there Leiser attended tournaments with teams his father organized until his unexpected death in 1977.
“So then, I was fortunate enough to be able to team up with other bowlers who knew my father,” he said.
When those teams disbanded, Leiser was fortunate to meet bowlers in Syracuse who were interested in attending, the New York state native said. And those connections over the years have led Leiser to form bonds with other tournament participants.
He fondly remembers teaming up with a California crew. The teams bowled separately as five-man teams, and one man from each team would pair up and bowl as doubles.
“That’s like almost heaven,” he said. “When you go to the tournament, you don’t have to worry about finding a doubles partner. (You) don’t have to worry about having an odd man.
“That 10-year-span was really enjoyable.”
Another fond championship tournament memory is when he placed 15th in singles out of 40,000 to 50,000 people in 1977 in Oklahoma City.
Leiser also placed 50th in all events that include the nine games bowled during a two-day tournament. Leiser explained the tournament lasts months as bowlers come to bowl a game and leave. This year the tournament spanned from March 5 to July 10 at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.
“Anybody who’s a sanctioned bowler in the USBC can go to the tournament,” Leiser said. “Anybody can go. You don’t have to qualify. Put a team together, pay your money and go.”
Cheering him on at the bowling tournaments has been his wife, Rose. Sometimes they incorporated them into a vacation.
But this year was memorable. Leiser and 19 other men reached the 50-tournament milestone — a record year, according to Matt Cannizzaro, public relations manager at the USBC. The record is 71 years participation, and three bowlers are tied for that amount.
“It’s a very special accomplishment,” Cannizzaro said. “They get the royal treatment.”
The royal treatment includes getting their picture on a huge participation wall, a plaque, Chevron diamond lapel and an escorted march down center aisle.
Center aisle is where the bowlers, usually about 300 players, walk down to get to their lanes before bowling begins for the day.
“They were out there waiting for Joseph when it was his turn,” Cannizzaro said. “We gave history of the event and his success and introduced him.”
Then Leiser was escorted down the aisle and to his lane by a representative from the USBC.
“It’s a very special presentation,” he said.