Canyon Laker’s bowling career spans 70 years

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Jerry Wood sports his 300 game ring. He’s bowled two perfect 300 games and rolled several games with 11 strikes in a row. Photo provided by Jerry Wood

Jerry Wood’s story begins approximately 70 years ago. In 1947, in the small town of Shopiere, Wisconsin, Jerry’s father took the 10-year-old into the basement of an old Methodist Church to teach him how to bowl. He rolled a less-than-full-size bowling ball down a wooden floor aiming it at the 10 pins down the lane. Jerry’s father would do this each week until his father’s bowling league ended. He bowled at a small bowling center in Beloit, Wisconsin, at a time when pins were hand-set by pinsetters and foul judges were positioned on each end of the lanes. “Bowling has come a long way since then,” said Jerry.

Jerry rarely watched my father bowl; instead he opted to go across the street to the Rex Theater to watch cowboy movies and weekly serials. The serials had him hooked and he kept going back to see what was going to happen next.

In the 1940s, shooting marbles was a growing sport in the U.S. Jerry loved playing marbles and ended up being the marbles champion for two consecutive years while in grade school. In 1947, Rock County held its all-school marbles competition. Jerry was paired to compete against Herbie Turman from So. Beloit, IL, a special marbles player. He won the second of three contests against Herbie. Later that same year, Herbie competed in the National Marbles Championship held in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and became the 1947 U.S. National Marbles Champion.

While in his teens and wanting to earn a little walking-around money, Jerry and a few of his friends would set pins at one of the local bowling establishments. They were paid a whopping 10 cents a line and occasionally would set doubles or triples in order to earn more money. “I should have also received hazardous pay as many of the pins would fly to the back of the pit where I sat on a ledge. Some bowlers had a mean streak about them; they knew exactly where to roll the ball to make pins fly back into the pit. We had to jump out of the pit very quickly to avoid injury,” said Jerry.

As the years went by, interest in bowling shifted to other sports, namely baseball where Jerry excelled as a pitcher. He attended Beloit Catholic High School whose student body was nowhere near the size of the public high school. Even though his athletic talent was quite limited, we managed to assemble 10 guys who could catch, throw, hit a ball and love the game.  This worked well for me as he was the only pitcher on the team.

Before graduating from high school, several scouts from major league teams came to watch Jerry throw a baseball. In his senior year, his small Beloit Catholic High School won the State of Wisconsin’s baseball title. Shortly after, Jerry signed a professional baseball contract with the Milwaukee Braves and played in their minor league system. “This was a fun and exciting time in my life and, unknown to me at that time, I was surrounded by some of the now greats in baseball,” said Jerry.

Eventually, Jerry was released by the Braves. Shortly after, Jerry moved to San Diego where he continued to play baseball for many years with his respective companies — Convair and Solar Turbines.

“I had to move to San Diego and go on a blind date to meet Judee, my Wisconsin-born wife of 48 years. As a matter of fact, Judee’s high school, Racine Horlick High, and my high school were in the same conference. Small world,” said Jerry. “We continue to make trips to Wisconsin for each of our high school reunions where handicap parking is always full.”

Jerry has accomplished the majority of things he set out to do in the sports world.  He pitched five no-hitters in baseball, scored an eagle in golf, bowled two perfect 300 games, rolled several games with 11 strikes in a row (just missing the elusive 300 by one strike each game) and received many awards from the United States Bowling Congress, including a 300 game ring.

Jerry and Judee bowl twice a week at Cal Oaks Bowl in Murrieta. Judee was recently featured in the California Bowling Newspaper for bowling a 290 game while at a semi-annual tournament in Laughlin, Nevada. They’ve participated in Laughlin tournaments for the past 17 years.

The couple also bowled in United States Opens, usually held in Reno, Nevada. “This is a very difficult tournament to bowl in due to the challenging oil pattern laid down for bowlers,” said Jerry. “The tournament lasts about six months because of the large number of bowlers that arrive from every state in the nation to participate in this annual event.”

At the age of 80, Jerry doesn’t know how much longer he will be able to participate in these sporting events. He exercises regularly and does the things he needs to do to keep active and healthy. “I am particularly proud of my wife who is a recent cancer survivor, said Jerry. “At her age of 77, she is able to keep up with me on my journey to kick sand in the face of old age.”

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