The Unemployed Bowling Champion

ThomasSmallwood croppedFor Tom Smallwood the possibility of a strike was part of life. He worked at Saginaw Steering for GM. He got the bad news that he was being laid off just before last Christmas.

He has been off regular hours for a year, but last Friday he heard from a lady from the UAW jobs bank that the plant was calling him back. He thanked the woman but told her that he had a better gig going.

Tom Smallwood, 32 years old, a short, stocky guy, was bowling strikes at the PBA World Championship in Wichita, one of the biggest events on the professional tour.

On Sunday, Smallwood pulled his four bowling balls out of the trunk of his car that he had schlepped on the 15.5 hour trip from Michigan to bowl in the televised event for the $50,000 first prize. He won his semifinal against another Saginaw bowler, Tom O’Neil, to earn the chance to bowl against Wes Malott, one of the established stars of the pro game.

I had been watching a boring Bears Packers NFL game, and channel surfing during timeouts. I found the PBA event on ESPN and immediately caught the drama of the underdog UAW guy pitted against the polished tour veteran, Malott, who stood 10” taller than Smallwood.

Malott took the early lead but faltered as the pressure built in the latter frames. Smallwood, five and a half feet tall, hung in and had a chance to clinch the match with a strike in the tenth. He rolled three perfect strikes and then another in the last frame to win the tournament. It gave me chills to watch it.

For one GM guy off the factory floor from Saginaw, the bankruptcy and layoff gave him the chance to do what he loved. Smallwood had the guts to leave the familiarity of home and roam the country in bowling’s fast lane. When you do what you love it usually pays off.

Question: What’s your best bowling story?


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