Mike Pillatzki began bowling in 1970 as a sub for high school friend Bob Lorinser at the old Bowladrome on Benson Avenue.
Forty years later, at age 58, he's had a scrapbook year.
Glance at the final leader board on the east wall of the Kandi Bowl and Mike Pillatzki's name is at the top -- 279 high game and 761 high series. Outside the state tournament, the only other 700 series posted in the house this season is a 701 on the women's side by Nicole Franzwa.
Encouraged by Kandi Bowl manager Jarrett Kopacek, Pillatzki entered the 82nd Minnesota State Open Championships to roll for the Kandi Bowl 1 team.
"I'm not a tournament bowler," said Pillatzki this week. "I've never competed in the state open before."
An adjuster for North Star Insurance, Pillatzki explained that bowling for him is a time to relax. "When you bowl for a tournament team, you're under pressure to bowl well. I don't like that. I just want bowling to be a fun sport."
But Kopacek is a good friend and a top bowler who's 278 is second by one pin to Pillatzki's high game for the 2009-10 season. He wanted to put a stellar team together, so Pillatzki signed up. And there was not travel; the Kandi Bowl was the host site.
The result: the tournament rookie topped a field of 1,540 entries in Division I (185 average and above).
In mid-April, he rolled a 712 scratch series. His 45-pin handicap put him up to 757, a score that held up for the 15-week tournament.
Next came Debra Fleming of Britt at 752 (62 handicap) and then Tom Groh of Lakefield at 734 (54 handicap).
Pillatzki, who has a 199 average, is unsure what to expect in purse money but he claims that's secondary.
"It's more the honor of finishing first and the opportunity to be recognized at a banquet, I believe, in August," he said.
The Pillatzki name is familiar in local bowling. Unlike his older brother, Kevin Pillatzki is a well-traveled tournament entry. The boys' father, Leonard, was a familiar face at the alley. He passed away four years ago.
Mike doesn't believe there is a home-lane advantage in the state open. "These bowlers come in from the Twin Cities and they have eight or nine balls for every condition," he said. "They're so sophisticated no alley is going to get the best of them."
The Kandi Bowl's wood lanes "are tough" but "there's a shot on every one. You have to make the adjustment; a lot of people don't make the adjustment."
More pins fall
The state tournament that ran 15 weekends here from Jan. 20 to May 9 drew 3,000 bowlers, according to Kandi Entertainment Center general manager Kent Larson.
Pillatzki wasn't the only Willmar-area roller to score well on their home lanes. In Division 2 Singles, Mike Kuelbs and Ron Nyland tied for sixth place, Jordan Olson took 12th and Loren Olson 15th in a field of 1,299.
Area bowlers in the top 100 singles were Fransje Kuperus, Scott Klinghagen, Nicole Franzwa, Doug Lush and Clyde Strege. In doubles, scoring top 100 were Allen Ruter/James Woods, Dennis Flann/Mike Pillatzki, Ron Nyland/Bradley Munstermann and Jason Elwood/Chuck Loso.
In team events, top 50 Division 1 were Kandi Bowl No. 2, Gary Hern Agency and Kandi Bowl No. 1. In Division 2, Team Eagles No. 1 took eighth while Team Olson, Willmar Wood Products, Team Loso and Eagles No. 2 were all top 50.
On the fly
Jordan Smith, who returns to his home town this summer to play for the Stingers, hit a team-record 15 homers, 68 RBI and 96 hits for a .457 average. The St. Cloud State Huskies were eliminated from the regions on Sunday at Farmington, N.M. by Northern Sun foe Mankato State. Huskies senior Tyler Horning finished with a .333 average in 47 games with 46 hits and 19 RBI.
Gustavus Adolphus senior Andrea Brown finished her four years with Gusties fastpitch records for games played (172), games started (168). She ranks in the top 10 all-time in at-bats (467, third), assists (230, fourth), doubles (29, fifth), runs (102, sixth), RBI (88, sixth) and hits (seventh, 146). The third baseman hit .313. In the four years she played, the Gusties were 134-40 overall and 77-11 in the MIAC.
The Glacial Lakes Running Series Memorial Day/Law Day 5k is May 29 at Robbins Island. New this year for runners, walkers, in-line skaters, bikes and push-scooters is the Jenna Van Buren "Too Legit to Quit" Memorial 5K on June 12, also at Robbins Island. Proceeds go to the Jenna VanBuren Memorial Garden, among other causes.