Sunday, December 23, 2001

Love of bowling her legacy




By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the late 1940s, Ruth L. Payne, an outstanding bowler from Cincinnati, began thinking about bowling as an instrument of change.

        A member of the National Bowling Association (which was called the Negro Bowling Association at the time), she was convinced it could become a training ground for young talent, and an avenue for mixing the races.

        “This was when blacks were unable to compete with whites in the bowling centers,” she said in a recent interview.

        The association was formed in Detroit in 1939. Its name was changed to the National Bowling Association in 1944.

        Mrs. Payne said the American Bowling Congress and Women's International Bowling Congress had “Caucasian only” clauses in their constitution.

        And some bowling lanes would not allow blacks into their establishments.

        "We did not concentrate on breaking the barriers by protest. Our goal was to continue to grow. Our growth is eventually what broke down the barriers,” she said.

        She worked with other officials of the National Bowling Association, now headquartered in New York City, to create a league.

        “It quickly grew from 16 to 56 lanes,” she said.

        She said when the ABC and the WIBC dropped their “Caucasian only” clauses in 1950, the black association did not disband, but instead continued to build.

        However, in 1951, the NBA made it a prerequisite for its members to belong to the ABC and the WIBC.

        By 1989, eight percent of the NBA membership was white.

        Today, about 15 percent of the membership is white.

        Mrs. Payne worked as activities director at the old Summit Bowling Lane in Roselawn.

        She developed a “Learn-to-Bowl” program used in physical education programs in Cincinnati Public Schools in the late 1950s.

        She alsodeveloped: a program manual for coaches that was used nationally; the “King & Queen of the Hill” tournament; the National Adult Coach of the Year Award; the first National Junior Competition; and the National Junior Council Program.

        Mrs. Payne, 73, was an active promoter of the Celebrity Bowl, raising funds for the United Negro College Fund Drive and the Sickle Cell Foundation. The celebrity bowlers were people famous in other endeavors, such as Oscar Robertson of basketball; Aaron Pryor of boxing; singer Gladys Knight; Erika Alexander, star of the television series, Living Single, and Willie Stargell of baseball.

        Mrs Payne still serves on the Celebrity Bowl advisory committee. “In the celebrity tournaments, we would put a celebrity on each lane to make it exciting,” she said.

        In 1993, Mrs. Payne was inducted into the National Bowling Association Hall of Fame in San Jose, Calif., and the Celebrity Bowl was renamed the Ruth L. Payne Celebrity Bowl.

        In 1998, she was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

        “I am grateful for all the people who supported and nurtured my projects,” she said. “The only thing more important than what you create is how long it lasts.”

       



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