For most bowlers, a 300 game – 12 strikes in a row – is a fantasy. It is a dream never to be achieved.
For a few, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. For Columbia’s Tom Klepac, it’s a about being an awfully good, consistent bowler — his 40th perfect game occurred last Monday at West Park Bowl in Columbia.
His first 300 game came 34 years ago, in September 1980.
“I got home and woke my wife Patti up at one in the morning,” he recalls. “I told her she had to take a picture of me with my ball – we painted the numerals 300 on it.”
Klepac talked to the Republic-Times about his milestone accomplishment at West Park Bowl, where he bowls weekly.
“I bowled in a junior league when I was 7. I bowled with my dad. He was a pretty good bowler then – he had a 200 average,” Klepac said. “He didn’t live to see my first 300 game. I know he would have been proud.”
Klepac lightened as he told how he got back into bowling after he married.
“My wife sent a postcard to the Bowling for Dollars Show in St. Louis. She was selected, and on her first ball, she rolled a strike. That earned her a certificate for a free bowling ball, and she gave it to me,” Klepac said, laughing. “I guess I have 40 or so balls today.”
While some bowlers may roll a dozen or more games a night, several nights a week, Klepac, who works full time as the key account manager for Summit Distributors in St. Louis, averages six games a week.
He bowls in two leagues, at West Park Bowl and at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon. Since there are six bowlers on the West Park team, he regularly skips every sixth night. In the summer, he only bowls once a week.
So, it’s not the law of averages that has garnered 40 perfect games for Klepac. He says there are a number of factors contributing to generally higher averages in leagues — and more 300 games.
Young bowlers are getting more and better coaching. Some of today’s high school bowlers are awfully good, he said.
“Technology has touched bowling too,” he said. “The pins are better and more consistent. The balls are better, too.”Klepac after his first 300 game in 1980. (submitted photo)
Klepac is obviously proud of his collection of perfect scores.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging,” he said. “But I am really proud, especially of reaching this plateau.”
After waiting 13 months since his last 300, Klepac recently realized he had achieved this 17 times in the last 10 years.
“I have reset my goal to 50 300 games,” he said. “No matter how many times you do this, tension enters after about nine or 10 strikes. It’s not easy to be that consistent. And it may be a letdown afterward.”
Actually, he said, an 800 series is more difficult.
“I have 11 of those,” he said. “That takes consistency – three 267 scores in a row.”
In addition to being a very accomplished bowler, Klepac is also a good friend. He has bowled essentially with the same guys for 25 years now. The team members are, at West Park: Mike Harrington, Dave Mann, Mark Schanuel, Larry McIver and Walt Rich; at St. Clair Bowl: Todd Badgley, Randy Hettenhausen, Boyd Ahlers and Jeff McCarty.
Are there any more “keggling Klepacs” in the wings? Tom reiterated that his wife, Patti, doesn’t like to bowl. Perhaps their 18-year-old daughter, Kelli, will follow in his footsteps?
“Nope. Patti won’t even let me teach her. She says I’d bear down and be too tough on her.”
But Tom didn’t get serious until age 25, and there are seven more years for Kelli to do so as well – and that would give her an even start with her dad.