Londonderry man, 89, captures national 75-and-over bowling championshipBy ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader August 09. 2018 2:44PM
MERRIMACK -- Phil Smalley woke up last Friday in a panic. By the end of the day, he was all smiles.
Smalley overslept Friday morning in Reno, Nev. He was afraid he wouldn’t get from his hotel to the U.S. Bowling Congress Senior Championships before the finals began at 9 a.m.
The 89-year-old Londonderry resident not only arrived in time, but he left the tournament as the 75-and-above age group national champion.
Smalley, who previously lived in Amherst, celebrated his title with friends Wednesday at Merrimack Ten Pin before participating in the bowling alley’s senior league, as he does every week. Smalley has called Merrimack Ten Pin his bowling home for the past four years.
“I was rather nervous because the finals started at 9 o’clock and I didn’t wake up until 8:23 in the morning in the hotel,” Smalley said.
After a mad dash from the hotel, Smalley made it to Reno’s National Bowling Stadium before the six-competitor medal round began, and had time to calm down over a cup of coffee. The Marine Corps veteran entered the finals ranked second after recording a score of 1,390 over the six-game qualifying round, which featured 32 bowlers, that took place over the prior two days.
Smalley said confidence and momentum helped carry him to a three-game total score of 705, which earned him the win and is “way above” his usual mark.
“You get more confidence as you go along as long as you’re picking up spares,” Smalley said. “I picked up a baby split (spare) and that helps. It’s just a matter of luck.”
The other two members of Smalley’s group for the finals, John Smith of Peru, Ind., and Tito Romero of Rio Rancho, N.M., placed second and third, respectively. Smith earned a score of 676 while Romero finished with 648.
Smalley, who will turn 90 on Aug. 26, bowled frequently earlier in his life when he managed a JC Penney store in Troy, Pa., but only recently came back to the sport.
“I’d been out of bowling for 50 years,” Smalley said. “My wife passed away four years ago, so I came back into bowling.”
Smalley qualified for each of the past three USBC Senior Championships by winning the state championship in the 75-and-above age group. He placed sixth in 2016 and had to exit last year’s competition after one of his legs gave out on him.
Smalley was one of three New Englanders who qualified for this year’s national tournament.
Winning the national championship was on Smalley’s bucket list. The next achievement he plans to check off is bowling a perfect game by rolling only strikes.
“That’s my next goal,” Smalley said.
Smalley bowls three times a week at Merrimack Ten Pin. He bowls with the Strike Force team in the Monday night industrial league, competes in the senior league on Wednesdays and bowls with friends on Fridays.
Smalley enjoys the camaraderie of the sport and seeing friends when he bowls.
When next year’s USBC Senior Championships begin, Smalley hopes to be in the field.
“God willing,” he said.