LAS VEGAS – Dan Patterson of Milwaukee may have been out of the national spotlight for a while, but he picked the perfect time to reemerge.
The former Team USA member rolled a historic 300 game June 1 at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships. It was a first for his group of more than 60 teams and the 900th perfect game in 117 years of tournament history.
It also was a special way to kick off Pride Month for Patterson and his fellow competitors, many of whom started their visit to Las Vegas this year with the International Gay Bowling Organization’s IGBO Annual 2021, before making their way to South Point for the USBC Open Championships.
IGBO Annual is one of two national IGBO events and features a week of meetings, celebration and competition. The events travel each year to different bidding cities, and 2021 allowed the unique opportunity for a two-tournament crossover.
“It’s very special to be a part of history and to shoot a significant 300 in the event’s history,” Patterson said. “This is an awesome playing stage, and to come here and do it in front of your friends, on a great squad and with people who are supporting you, there’s really nothing better than that.”
It was support, and advice, from his teammates during the six games of doubles and singles at the South Point Bowling Center, that helped Patterson finish his 21st Open Championships appearance with the highest series of his tournament career.
The 45-year-old right-hander rolled games of 217, 212 and 300 for a 729 total, his best on the championship lanes by eight pins.
“Jay (Nephew) told me to switch balls, and I hesitated, but then I did, and the pins just all magically went down,” said Patterson, a member of Team USA from 2005-2007. “The shots weren’t that much better than the other five games. I was not throwing the ball phenomenal, but I got a lot of breaks. If you look at the 10th and 11th shots, they probably shouldn’t have carried, but that’s bowling, and I’m grateful they did.”
Bowling has been part of Patterson’s life for three decades, and it’s an environment that consistently has provided him with satisfaction and support – as an up-and-comer, as an elite athlete with Team USA and now as an owner of Sabre Lanes in Menasha, Wisconsin, with his husband, Marcus.
In 2006, Patterson had the opportunity to represent the United States on the lanes and help Team USA to its first team gold medal at the International Bowling Federation World Men’s Championships in 35 years. There’s an amazing sense of pride in that.
Being able to represent the gay community on the lanes and find success at the Open Championships also was an incredibly proud moment.
“I do appreciate that this is on the first day of the month of pride and it was on a gay squad, and I didn’t really put that into perspective until now, but it really is very special,” Patterson said. “From my experience in the gay community, in bowling, I can’t tell you how inclusive it always has been for me. As long as you’re going in there and you’re passionate, having fun and trying to succeed, you will be supported.
“I’ve always been attracted to environments that have benefited me, from the people to the coaching to the bowling center and all of that stuff. I don’t think there’s anything about bowling that will separate you based on your race, color, creed or sexual orientation.”
Patterson added sets of 660 in team and 600 in doubles this year for a 1,989 all-events total. His overall performance helped Shady Unicorns of Chula Vista, California, to a 3,189 team score and 9,283 Team All-Events total, both top-50 scores this year.
He was joined by Charlie Esteban (1,960), Nephew (1,840), Robert Raymond (1,777) and Timothy Yaeger (1,717).
Their team is one of 68 organized by Jim Costello, who started with four teams in 2009 and has doubled the group’s size multiple times. While many of the bowlers are gay, he describes it more as a gay-friendly group of friends and friends of friends who like to bowl and have a good time.
The contingent includes bowlers of all ages and skill levels, from Patterson’s ultra-competitive quintet down to bowling beginners. Fifty teams competed at the South Point Bowling Plaza and South Point Bowling Center this week, while the final 18 teams will take the lanes in July.
Typically, the group bowls in mid-April, but being able to shift the time frame in 2021 allowed many of the competitors the opportunity to experience both the Open Championships and IGBO Annual.
Costello encouraged the bowlers to visit both tournaments and even used the chance to educate and recruit IGBO bowlers who may not have been familiar with the Open Championships, as he does anytime he’s on the lanes or in a bowling center.
Ultimately, the longtime member of the Captain’s Club loves bowling and competing and enjoys doing the work that may have prevented team members from enjoying the Open Championships sooner or more frequently.
Also, seeing his bowlers have positive and memorable experiences often is all the reward Costello needs for his efforts, but being present for Patterson’s run at the record book had his heart swell with emotion and pride.
“I know a few people in our group have had the potential and skill to roll a 300 or an 800 here, and I was actually kind of emotional about it because I knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t know which person. We’ve come so close so many times, and it was just a matter of time. The fact that it’s a historic one makes it even more special. I’m proud that we did it. And what a way to kick off Pride Month.”
At times, in his own life, Costello has faced stigmas about gay men and women and their ability to play sports, whether it be bowling or softball or volleyball or any other competition, but it’s not something that has held him back.
The pins don’t know if you’re a man or woman, gay or straight. Bowling is a game of strategy and skill, and he’s ready to compete every time the lane lights come on.
“Bowling is a great social activity, and people love to bowl and compete, but there’s sometimes the stigma that it’s not something everyone can do or do well, and we’ve all faced it as some point,” Costello said. “Every time I put my shoes on and the lanes come on, I’ll show you I’m a bowler and ready to compete.”
As Open Championships surveys sometimes show, one of the main reasons bowlers don’t start competing sooner is because they’re simply not invited or they’re intimidated by the steps and commitment required to be a team captain.
There’s also the misunderstanding that the tournament is for elite players, and it sometimes takes seeing it for the first time for bowlers to completely grasp the magnitude and diversity. With three average-based divisions, bowlers of all skill levels have the chance to compete against their competitive peers.
“It really is word of mouth, and I didn’t even know about it until 15 or 16 years ago, when someone asked us to go,” said Costello, who made his 13th Open Championships appearance this week. “Sometimes it just takes someone to organize it, and I enjoy being that person. Some people don’t understand why I want to do all this, but it’s because I love helping people have this experience. There’s nothing like seeing someone compete for the first time and then want to stay.”
Costello and Patterson both considered the dual-event week a success, filled with chances to reunite after two years apart, as well as compete on a variety of lane conditions.
As they return home, Costello already is looking ahead to next year and his group’s return to South Point for the 2022 Open Championships.
In the short-term, Pride Month will be filled with opportunities to celebrate, educate and support the LGBTQ community, and countless activities (parades, parties, picnics, workshops, memorials, concerts, and more) will be held in communities across the country.
The tradition began in 1970 as a way to commemorate the riots held in reaction to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969. The event was a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ liberation in the United States.
This story about Patterson and Costello is about their dedication and success at the Open Championships and is part of an ongoing digital media campaign recognizing various groups, organizations and bowlers that make up the USBC membership, while also bringing attention to topics that affect the world on a larger scale.
USBC will continue to expand its diversity and inclusion topics and welcome the opportunity to showcase the people and other areas that are important to the members.
If you know someone who is a standout or inspiration, or you’d like to suggest a topic close to you, please let us know more by sending an email to PR@bowl.com.
For more information about USBC and its programs and partnerships, visit BOWL.com/Diversity.