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June 17, 2011

Bowling tournament and cruise hits a high point

Cleveland--The 23rd Annual Cleveland GIFT Bowling Tournament on June 10 to 12, and its attendant cruise marked a high point in attendance, bringing people from all over the region to Cleveland for a weekend of fun.

The tournament, which is limited to 160 bowlers, sold out weeks in advance, with a handful of would-be registrants turned away because they signed up too late.

While the tournament has reached maximum capacity before, that was when the tournament was held at an alley smaller than the Freeway Lanes in Parma, and when the tournament had five-bowler teams.

“This is the most we’ve ever had at a GIFT tournament,” said board member Ed Progar, who was also the director of this year’s cruise. “We had to turn away, I’m not sure what the exact number is, but I want to say 15 people who turned their registrations in too late.”

A number of other International Gay Bowling Organization tournaments have seen attendance drop over recent years, and, according to Progar, just a few years ago the Gay-Lesbian Invitational Fellowship Tournament was down to 78 bowlers, so it has doubled its attendance in half a decade.

“Our entry fee is only $69; last year it was only $65, we raised it four dollars because the cost of the banquet went up,” Progar said. “We’re one of the lowest, I think the lowest of all the IGBO tournaments.”

Despite the low registration fee, year-round fundraising events allowed the tournament to give out over $11,000 in prize money, in addition to another $3,500 in cash raffles and other raffles that gave away bowling balls.

GIFT’s annual cruise aboard the Goodtime III drew 679 people on June 11, the second-highest attendance since the event started.

“The only larger one we had was the first one we had on the Goodtime III, which was, I think, in 1991,” Progar said. “It was a beautiful night, the lake was like glass.”

“I’ve been on that boat every year, every time I’m on there and we go out on the lake and you get those beautiful views of the city . . . I love it here,” he mused. “Standing at the end of the gangplank wishing everyone good night as they’re disembarking and talking about what a great time they had, it just feels good.”

People came from far and wide for the tournament and the cruise.

“We had people from as far away as Missouri, New Jersey, Kentucky, Michigan, Washington D.C. and one from Canada,” said tournament director Eric Strong. “The individual all-around winner was from Buffalo, New York.”

It was Strong’s first year as the tournament director, although he has been on the committee for five years.

“I have a great committee,” he noted. “Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”

Despite the increase in attendance, for the next couple of years there will likely not be a move to a larger venue. Freeway Lanes’ Wickliffe location, for instance, has more lanes.

“Right now, there’s no plans to expand, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at that in the future,” Strong said.

“I’m really thrilled with the success that we had this year,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to the committee and the Cleveland area.”

The year was a mix of rookies and veterans, both on the committee and among the bowlers.

Progar noted that about 35 percent of the bowlers had not competed at GIFT before.

“We had some people on the committee who have been there from the beginning, and we had some people who were on for the first time, so I think having that mix is great, too,” Strong concluded.

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