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Paper or Plastic? 

Controversies in bowling usually range from what light beer should be consumed to the preferred width of the diamonds on the classic King Louie retro shirt.

Well, two weeks ago, the Professional Bowlers Association ignited a much-needed publicity brouhaha when the tour held its first limited equipment tournament, the GEICO Plastic Ball Championship at Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  Unlike regular PBA events, in which players usually cart a baker's dozen or more bowling balls, the rules of this event required all players to use the same old school purple (yes, purple!) plastic ball.

How outdated is the plastic ball?  All-time tour wins leader Walter Ray Williams Jr. was the last bowler to win with a plastic ball, capturing the 1993 Homestead Classic. The two top players on the tour this season, Wes Malott and Norm Duke, skipped the event with Malott registering his disdain for the concept saying, "Nobody's asking Tiger Woods to use a wood driver or Roger Federer to use a wood racket." 

How much reaction did the plastic ball tourney generate?  Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon weighed in on "Pardon My Interruption." Woody Paige from "Around the Horn" tossed in his two cents. The PBA couldn't have asked for better publicity.

In today's bowling environment of high-performance reactive resin balls, bowlers often overcome varied lane conditions through the deployment of specific balls. But here, the player had to adjust with his hand, arm swing, ball speed, and board choice rather than simply switching balls.  What a concept!

The controversy generated by the plastic ball tournament begs the thought: why don't other sports hold such retro equipment events? For instance, the PGA could conduct a tournament using the same wooden persimmon driver or same round golf ball. Tennis could hold a tournament with players required to use a Jack Kramer wooden racket. - Mike Ficher


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