I am jealous of Kelley Foster…
I say that because one of the sports I chose – distance running – did not turn out to be one of those “lifetime sports” we hear about. She made a different choice.
Kelley and I both had a good year in 1994. She hit a major milestone in her sport, I was running well, my knees felt good and I put up one of my strongest performances ever. Years later, for me, not so much…
While I have slowed down considerably, Kelley has not, and on June 1st, she will travel to the Doubletree Hilton in Syracuse to be inducted into the New York State Bowling Hall of Fame. It is well-deserved recognition of a long, impressive and still-unfolding bowling career, and when we sat down to talk about it, I traveled down Memory Lane with Kelley, back to that historic night in 1994.
Back then, local sports coverage was much more extensive than it is now, and bowlers got their due. There were numerous bowling centers, Gerry Angel wrote about his fellow bowlers regularly, scores and league standings showed up in the newspaper, and Kelley’s name was among those most frequently mentioned.
In April of ’94, the word hit that Foster had rolled her way into the history books by doing something no local woman had ever done. She revisited that personal triumph with me, and she said, “I started off with a 254, and came out strong again with a 255.” That two-game total of 509 left her a mere 189 pins from a 700-series, a milestone sought by many bowlers, male and female. Rather than fade out in her third game, Kellie rolled an incredible 289 to record the first 800-series ever attained by a local woman. It was the talk of the area bowling world for some time.
I asked Kelley where it all began, and she said; “I started as a 7-year-old in the Junior Bowling League, and we bowled on Saturday mornings at the 8-Lane bowling center in Groton.”
Foster bowled as often as she could through high school, and in 1988, she got serious. “I met up with Cathy Dyess-Nunnely, who was a Certified Coach through the Dick Ricker Bowling Camps. We worked together for 2 to 3 hours every night for an entire summer, and my game started to take off.”
Her game took off to the point that her average went north of 200 in the early 1990s, and it would climb to the point where her 223 average was the highest ever for a local woman. She rolled her first 300 game in 1998 (and has put up three more perfectos since), and in 1999, she qualified for the first of her ten appearances in the Empire State Games, where she won 3 Gold, 2 Silver and 4 Bronze medals. Since turning 50, and moving up to the Empire State Senior Games (in 2016), Kellie has picked up 6 additional Golds.
Foster also has two NYS Team Championship titles on her resume (1988 and 2005), a shelf full of Ithaca City Championship trophies and over one-hundred 700-series. I asked her if the intense torque of cranking a 16-pound bowling ball into a whirling destruction device had caused her any physical problems, and she offered, “Well, I haven’t really slowed down.” She grinned and said, “However, I have had some shoulder, hand and knee surgeries.”
Looking back over her dozens of years and thousands of games, Kellie said, “The sport has seen some changes. There are fewer people, and fewer places to bowl.” She added, “Some of us die-hards are still around, and in the Thursday Night Women’s Bowling League, we have seen many of the same faces for well over 20 years. I still enjoy the atmosphere, and my teammates, who are really more like family to me.” She added, “My Hall of Fame ring will be engraved with ‘F&F,’ which signifies Friends and Family.”
I mentioned earlier that I was jealous of Kelley, and while I was joking, I do wish I could say I came back years after reaching my peak and hit an even loftier goal. That is exactly what she did on October 13 of 2008, she topped her historic 800 series with an 804.
Kelley has worked at the Cornell Bookstore for 33 years, and she told me, “When I retire, I might offer some informal lessons if there is interest.” When asked how long she will bowl, she stated, “I see some women in their 80’s and at the ESSG, I have seen them over 90. I hope that’s me.”
I said, “So, regarding the span of your bowling career – 40 years in - you’re halfway there?” Kelley smiled, shrugged and said, “I hope so!”