COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The pins cracked in the ninth frame and Baltimore’s best bowler, Danny Wiseman, saw his dream slowly slip away as he lost his lead in the 1992 Firestone Tournament of Champions semi-final match.
In order to move on to the championship game, he needed two strikes and two pins in the 10th frame. Unfortunately, one pin remained standing after he rolled the first ball. Almost immediately, he buried his head into his hands as the room went silent. Game over.
It was a hard loss to swallow knowing he couldn’t win for his father, who was sitting just a few feet behind him. It was the last tournament his terminally-ill father watched him compete in before he died.
“Not winning that title has always bugged me,” he said. “It’s one that hurts. I wanted to win for my dad, and that one didn’t happen.”
He did go on to win many tournaments — 12 national Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) titles, and 12 regional ones — a feat that was recognized by his home state last month.
Wiseman, a Dundalk native, became the first ten-pin bowler to be inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame, on Nov. 14, where he joined past honorees like Cal Ripken, Jr.,and Babe Ruth.
Unlike the baseball greats, the bowling star isn’t a household name partly because his sport isn’t as popular as it used to be.
Over the course of Wiseman’s nearly 30 year career, bowling transformed from a popular sport that regularly aired on television to a game better known as a recreational activity.
“There’s no question that it was more popular back then. Bowlers were the cool guys,” said Bowlers Journal International president Keith Hamilton of competitive bowling 50 years ago. “Look at kids today and what they have to choose from– video games, technology and social media–that competes against bowling.”
Wiseman, now 46, began his love affair with the game as a toddler at Fair Lanes East Point with duckpin bowling — a version of the sport that originated in Maryland.
He started ten-pin bowling and joined a youth league at age seven at Fair Lanes Dundalk, where he immediately became a standout among his peers.
Bernie Kuhn, Wiseman’s childhood friend and bowling partner, said many of the local adult bowlers recognized his dedication to the sport as a child, and knew he would become a great bowler.
“He lived, ate and drank bowling. If he wasn’t practicing, he was watching the adults bowl,” he said. “Danny would always be talking to good bowlers. He was enamored with bowling.”
Wiseman progressed very quickly as a junior bowler. At 15, he became the youngest bowler in Maryland to bowl a perfect 300 game.
“In that era, a 15-year-old shooting a perfect game was unheard of, especially in this area,” Wiseman said.
A PROFESSIONAL CAREER
Wiseman continued to perfect his game, moving up to the local adult league right after high school. He transitioned to the PBA tour circuit in his early 20s.
Wiseman started his professional career just as the sport’s popularity was beginning to wane. Though many well-known bowlers were still competing, the game was overshadowed on television by other sports like football, according to experts.
At that time, many corporate sponsors were pulling their support and television networks had stopped airing tournaments, Hamilton said. Today, ESPN is the only network that broadcasts tournaments during the PBA season.
Kuhn said that local bowlers recognized Wiseman as a “top dog” in Baltimore. But Wiseman knew he had to adapt to larger tournaments, Kuhn said.
“I found out that I was a big fish in a little pond, so to speak,” Wiseman said of his early local career. “These guys from around the country and the world — they could bowl.”
During his first season, he won a few tournaments locally, but in his second year on tour failed to win on any of the six stops he made.
In 1990, Wiseman started competing full-time on tour, winning his first national title at the Fair Lanes Open in Baltimore. It was one of the proudest moments of his career, he said.