SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Twelve years ago, in his mid-30s, Kurt Pilon of Warren, Michigan, had a heart attack and didn’t think he’d ever bowl again.
By that point in his career, he was a champion at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships (Regular Team in 1997), had been a member of Team USA (1998) and claimed a title on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour (2001).
Pilon was able to regain his stride physically, but he took extra pride in returning to the lanes stronger mentally.
This week, Pilon found his way back into the spotlight at the USBC Open Championships, serving a variety of roles as his two-team group catapulted to the top of the standings in every Regular-Division event, along with setting the bar in Team All-Events.
Pilon averaged nearly 243 over nine games at the Oncenter Convention Center and leads Regular All-Events with a 2,186 mark, the highest total on the tournament lanes since 2015. The effort included sets of 763 in team, 752 in doubles and 671 in singles.
Even if the 45-year-old right-hander doesn’t see himself as a vocal leader, he kept the mood light for his teammates and spoke volumes through his performance.
With 24 tournament appearances, he is a veteran of the well-balanced group, which combines Open Championships experience with young, passionate competitors looking to start their own legacies.
“I don’t try to play a leadership role because I’m usually more concerned with my own game, but do I try to keep the guys focused on what is best for them and their games,” Pilon said. “I want the guys to be comfortable on their own, move around how they wish and play their own games. I am rooting them on by letting them be free and try to see the things they want to see. I am a cheerleader, but at the same time, I want to lead by example.”
Pilon first helped S & B Pro Shop 1 to the lead in Regular Team with a 3,322 total Wednesday night and carried that momentum into Thursday, where he teamed with Andrew Burke of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, to claim the top spot in Regular Doubles with 1,331.
Burke got off to a slow start in doubles and singles, contributing a 579 series to the doubles effort, but the teammates continued to communicate well, ultimately helping him get comfortable enough to find the top of the standings in Regular Singles.
The 31-year-old right-hander rebounded with games of 234, 233 and 258 for a 725 singles set.
“I tried to get comfortable going through doubles, and then Kurt gave me an idea toward the end, which helped me play to my strengths,” said Burke, who made his ninth Open Championships appearance. “I really wanted to help the Team All-Events effort after such a slow start in the two previous events.”
Burke finished his 2018 tournament campaign with a 1,895 all-events total. He and Pilon were joined by Ryan Mouw (1,950), Marcus McClain (1,940) and two-time Open Championships titlist Bill Orlikowski (1,737) for a Team All-Events-leading 9,708 total.
Since it’s early in the 2018 tournament, the S & B Pro Shop teams didn’t know what to expect from the event’s two oil patterns, which won’t be published until July. They found success through trial and error, communication and aggressive moves across the nine games.
S & B Pro Shop 2 is second in Regular Team (3,102) and second in Team All-Events (9,520).
The 10 players also are first and second in doubles, hold six of the top-10 spots in Regular Singles and occupy seven spots on the Regular All-Events leaderboard, including the first four places.
Matthew Anderson, who rolled a perfect game at the 2014 Open Championships, led the way for S & B Pro Shop 2 this week with a 2,013 all-events total. He was joined by his brother Andrew Anderson (1,966), David Reaume (1,923), Justin O’Hara (1,841) and Brad Smyth (1,777).
Pilon said when he returned to the lanes after his heart attack, he always felt like he had something to prove each time he put on his bowling shoes.
Another year off about two years ago gave him a chance to re-evaluate his goals as a player and person, and he determined he needed to bowl to make himself feel happy.
Putting in the time and sharing his passion and work ethic with the young bowlers in the group help them make a memorable statement at the Oncenter Convention Center this week.
“We’ve put together a decent group, we found some success and we hope to continue to grow from there,” Pilon said. “I’m very happy with the results, even though as a player, you always feel like you left something out there. We bowled well, but I am sure the scores will be improved upon.”