The crowd reacts to a strike by Josh Blanchard of the Motown Muscle during the quarterfinals of the Elias Cup at Bayside Bowl on Tuesday evening. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

PBA Tour stops at Bayside Bowl aren’t your grandfather’s weekly bowling league.

The pro bowlers flex, thump their chests and high-five the crowd after every strike. Anything short of a strike elicits a vigorous shake of the head, a slap of the forehead or even a brisk kick of the ball returner.

Hundreds of fans dress in every manner of get-up, from lederhosen to Statue of Liberty costumes, wielding fatheads, dancing to booming music and making as much noise as possible.

The 2019 Elias Cup, the Professional Bowlers Association’s team-style playoff, is adding another chapter to the budding romance between Portland and professional bowling.

The event, in its fifth year at Bayside Bowl, began on Tuesday and culminates in a championship match on Thursday evening.

“(Bayside Bowl) has changed the concept of what a live bowling event can feel like,” said Jason Belmonte of Australia, widely considered the world’s top bowler. “Normally, a PBA tour event is a little bit more like golf, where it’s quite quiet. Here, it’s more of an entertainment atmosphere at level 100.”


PBA Commissioner Tom Clark credits Portland’s fans with reviving the PBA’s team event, also known as the League.

“(Portland) gave the PBA League an identity,” said Clark, who became commissioner in 2011. “(In 2015) the League was on the brink of extinction, and we came here and did the event here, and the place went nuts. It’s given the League a new life.”

For the first time, the entire Elias Cup is being broadcast live – a move prompted by a steady increase in national television viewership. PBA events drew 11 million viewers in 2018 on ESPN, Clark said, but have been seen by nearly 20 million already in 2019 on Fox and FS1.

Clark suggested the Elias Cup could serve as a model as the PBA continues to expand and adapt to a changing audience.

“Much of the tradition and the culture of professional bowling has been singles competition, but the team environment is so cool to watch, and the fans get so into it, that I think we could expand this concept,” said Clark. “It could be the future.”

Fans cheer as teams of the Professional Bowlers Association compete in the quarterfinals of the Elias Cup at Bayside Bowl on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Bowlers say the atmosphere at Bayside is one of a kind.


“It’s a destination. Every sport has its mecca, and this is where you want to go,” said EJ Tackett. Tackett is third in the PBA point standings and is competing in his third Elias Cup. “I tell (fans) that you need to go to Portland, Maine. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in your life, at least in bowling.”

The Elias Cup serves as professional bowling’s de facto all-star game. Competitors must be in the top 40 of PBA’s ranking to participate.

Eight teams of five bowlers each compete in the single-elimination bracket, representing cities from Detroit and Los Angeles to Portland. Each bowler is required to bowl two frames per game, and the first team to win two games wins the match. Ties are decided by a sudden death “roll-off,” with the highest single roll ending the match.

The event draws hundreds of spectators from Portland and beyond.

“All of my favorite bowlers are bowling here, and I wanted to meet them,” said AJ Skvarenina, 17, who traveled from Fenton, Michigan, to watch Tuesday’s quarterfinals. “I think it’s really explosive, and the energy here is amazing, especially compared to the other tournaments.”

“There are not many tournament like this one, or close enough in this area,” said Connor Bean, 21, who bowls at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, and came from Windsor, Vermont, his with his brother, Avery, 17, and parents to watch. “It’s unique, since most tournaments are out west or down south. It’s really nice to have something that’s really big and where all the professionals are that’s in the New England area.”


The PBA Tour was last in Portland in early June, when Bayside hosted the final rounds of the individual PBA playoffs.

Kris Prather, 27, won that event, beating out some of the sport’s most decorated bowlers. Now competing in his first Elias Cup, Prather is bowling for the hometown Portland Lumberjacks.

“It’s cool to be on the hometown team and also to have had so much success here and to have started that story of where my career could potentially go from here,” said Prather. “I hear that it’s the most exciting bowling event of the year. This is what bowling fans look forward to. It’s essentially a party on the lanes.”

That same festive atmosphere, which permits fans to cheer before, during, and after every point, has ruffled the feathers of some bowling traditionalists, who argue that the continuous noise can disrupt the bowlers’ focus.

Belmonte dismissed their concerns as a matter of mistaken priorities.

“From my perspective as a player, I think we are the secondary focus. I think fans are our primary focus, and if our fans are having a really good time at our event, then more of them will want to come. I’m all for whatever the fans want to do.”

“It gets you excited,” said Avery Bean. “There should be more Bayside Bowls.”

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