Franklin bowler rolls into history with 36 straight strikes
By TODD ROSIAK
Posted: April 25, 2006
Mark Wukoman was still pinching himself Tuesday.
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Mark Wukoman rolled three consecutive 300 games at Classic Lanes in Greenfield to record just the ninth 900 series in the 111-year history of certified league play.
The only thought in my head was, believe it or not, 'I better get this one. For me and for everybody else in here, because I'm not going to be the only one that's going to feel bad if I don't get it.' When I released it, it was right solid in the pocket.
- Mark Wukoman,
on what he thought prior to his final strike
And really, who could blame him?
The 50-year-old Franklin resident bowled his way into history Saturday night, rolling three consecutive 300 games at Classic Lanes in Greenfield to record just the ninth 900 series in the 111-year history of certified league play.
Considered the Holy Grail of individual feats in bowling, Wukoman's 900 series came in the Saturday Night Special Men's League, one he took part in as a part-time player for the season.
The drama unfolded in front of roughly 100 other bowlers, all of whom stopped in the midst of their games once news of the series spread, and ended with Wukoman collapsing in a heap on the floor, overcome by what he'd just accomplished.
"I've been bowling for 40 years now, and I know the lanes change and the chances of getting tapped or leaving a single pin, it just happens," he said. "There's no way you're ever going to strike 36 times in a row - supposedly - because it happens so infrequently. Something like that, you never think about."
Using an AMF Radar ball he played with for the first time earlier in the week in the USBC Open in Corpus Christi, Texas, Wukoman finished his warm-ups Saturday by throwing seven consecutive strikes.
He opened play with one perfect game and then followed with his second, all the while trying to maintain his focus as the interest grew in what was transpiring on Lanes 5 and 6.
His teammates, meanwhile, left him alone, much as a pitcher's teammates might in the midst of a no-hitter in baseball.
"When I threw a strike I would sit down in the telescore area there and wouldn't talk to anybody, wouldn't watch anybody. I would just stare straight ahead and then bowl," Wukoman said. "After the second (300), people started to notice a little bit, but still I had that same mind-set. I was just going out there and trying to throw the ball the same way every time."
After his second 300, Wukoman's next goal was to better his wife's 836 series, which was 11 pins better than his all-time high.
Margie Morrow-Wukoman, a member of both the Wisconsin Women's Bowling Association and Milwaukee Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame, is regarded as one of the top dozen or so female bowlers in the state.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'Hmm, I've got a good shot at beating her. All I need is a 237,'" said Wukoman, a self-employed painting contractor. "So I got the first six or seven in a row and kind of pumped my fist up a little bit because I knew I beat her. Nobody knew what that was all about. But then I decided, 'I better focus on this now. I got the first seven. This is the last game.'"
With everyone now watching and roaring with each strike, Wukoman finally found himself on the precipice of a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
"The only thought in my head was, believe it or not, 'I better get this one. For me and for everybody else in here, because I'm not going to be the only one that's going to feel bad if I don't get it,'" he said. "When I released it, it was right solid in the pocket."
And with that final strike, the place went up. Wukoman, meanwhile, went down.
"I couldn't move. I just laid right on the approach," he said. "They kind of picked me up, and everybody else started clapping and high-fiving. It was pretty extraordinary. I did not want to get up. I just wanted to lay there. I couldn't believe what happened."
His wife didn't believe it
Not long thereafter, Wukoman placed a call to his wife.
"When he called me I was working in the yard and I didn't believe it. I thought the guys were playing a joke on me," Margie Morrow-Wukoman said. "Then I called back again and told him to put one of his teammates on, and he said, 'No, really, it's true.' I could hear the people in the background. Then I knew it was legit.
"But to be on the safe side I said, 'Bring me a score sheet home.'"
Wukoman, who has 18 perfect games to his credit, will wait for the United States Bowling Congress to verify his 900 series, a mere formality considering it was accomplished in a sanctioned league and in front of plenty of witnesses.
In the days since, Wukoman has tried to get back to everyday life. But considering the magnitude of his achievement, it hasn't been easy.
"You think of the millions of bowlers that have bowled over how many decades that have ever had a shot at 900, or anything close to it, and I was just one of the lucky ones to do it," Wukoman said. "I feel like somebody either was looking down on me or I'm special."
Interestingly, Wukoman's 900 series was the second to be rolled at Classic Lanes, making it the only house to have played host to two by two different bowlers.
In 1998, Tony Roventini accomplished the feat.