In our second edition of this segment, we get to meet and learn from one of the most talented and dedicated players that our game has ever seen. Connie Ward's incredible bowling career has traversed her YBC years into adulthood, crisscrossed into 10-Pin, and then back to 5-Pin, with the occasional trip south for some Duckpin. And she has been dominant at all three!
Connie's incredible YBC career featured 6 National "4-Steps to Stardom" Singles titles, having won TWICE in each division! She also won the MBAO Bursary tournament and went on to win 9 Masters events, 2 Aggregate titles and is a 5-time MBA Ladies team National Champion.
In the Open, Connie is a 3-time Ontario Singles Champ (including her win last year), and a 6-time Ontario Ladies Team Champion! Three of those teams also won National Gold!
To top it off, she has bowled 3 Perfect games in 5-Pin, and has television appearances on both CBC and the TSN Pins Game. Connie also dedicates a tremendous amount of time and effort in directing the curriculum at the O5PBA Bowling School.
Incredibly, Connie accomplished all of this while giving up 5-Pin for about 6 years between 1994 and 2000! During that time, her dabbling into the game of 10-Pin saw her excel to the point of making Team Canada in 1992-1993!! She won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at FIQ American Zone Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico in '93.
Connie also won a Ladies Doubles Title at the WIBC Championships in Reno, Nevada.
She also spent some time on the Ladies Pro Tour, and just like in 5-Pin, she remarkably has appeared on the TSN Pins Game (10-Pin this time) and has 3 Perfect 300 games!!
Following her excellent success in 10-Pin, Connie rededicated herself exclusively to the game of 5-Pin….for a little while, anyway. A couple of years ago she joined some other 5-pinners on a road trip to the States to give Duckpin a try. Needless to say, it went well!! In 2008, Connie won the "WNDA" (Women's National Duckpin Association) "Rookie of the Year" AND "Bowler of the Year".
In a very short time, Connie won 3 WNDA tournaments and in 2010, was inducted into the WNDA "Hall-of -Fame"!!
My chat with the remarkably multi-talented, funny and down-to-earth Connie Ward…
Connie, your record of winning two National 4-Steps Singles titles in each of Bantam, Junior and Senior is amazing! For perspective, do you recall what your average would have been in your last year in each division?
Bantam- 200, Junior- 230, Senior- 250.
Did you have any coaches back then who really made a positive influence in your career? And in what ways did they really help?
My mom and dad were the main coaches in my career. They taught me patience, perseverance and to always give 110% and have the “killer instinct”.
You also went on to excel at 10-pin as well. At what age did you start playing "big ball"?
The first league I joined, I believe I was 27.
How many steps do you take for your 5-Pin approach, and do you change it at all for your 10-pin shot?
I take 4 steps in 5-pin and 5 steps in 10-pin, so I do move back on the approach for the 10-pin game.
What target(s) do you use for your 5-Pin shot?
Arrows and dots…just beyond the foul line and sometimes even the foul line if there is a lot of glare on the lanes.
You've always been extremely versatile as far as adjusting your line, speed, ball rotation, etc…Did your experience in 10-Pin help you to read lanes and adjust, or "shape your shot" for 5-Pin? Or has it always come naturally?
10-pin has helped with my duckpin game more so than the 5-pin game. I have always experimented with lots of different lines/speed etc. You can never have too many “games” in your portfolio.
Your first Perfect Game came in 5-Pin, did that experience help when it came down to the last few shots in your first 10-Pin "300 Game"?
Yes and no, I was still nervous as hell!!! LOL
Incredibly, you've also appeared on TV playing both sports. Did your experience in one help you in the other, or does it just feel like 2 completely different games?
The mental game is the same but on the lanes it is a different thinking and reading game. In 10-pin you have to have the ability to read the lanes, watch the ball reaction more than in 5-pin. The lanes also change more in 10-pin and quickly.
It'd be an understatement to say that you picked up the Duckpin game rather quickly. How much (if any) did your experience in 10-Pin help in terms of knowing angles and making spare shots?
Both 5-pin and 10-pin helped. Both games helped with spare shooting. 10-pin for the angles and multiple pin spares and 5-pin for the single pins as you need to be accurate. Small ball, small pin. Not much room for error.
Many Canadians have gone south and experienced success at Duckpin…How have the Americans handled 5-Pinners coming down and taking over their game?
They have been very welcoming, both on the men's and women's tours. I wouldn’t say that we are taking over the game at all though. There is so much to learn and these players are very good at their sport. I know myself I am just happy to be able to compete along side of them.
I have heard that. Mike Herbert, for instance mentioned that they have been helpful in offering advice in shooting spares and such. I would hope that it'd be the same if they came up here to give "5" a try.
You'd been a Canadian Champ several times by the time you became a member of "Team Canada". How different (if at all) did it feel to actually wear the "flag" on your back?
I’m not going to lie, it was totally amazing! Now I know what it’s like for the Olympic athletes to carry that flag and represent your country. It’s just awesome!
Until you'd made "Team Canada", you played both 5-Pin and 10-Pin regularly. Did either game suffer playing both, and was it hard to switch back and forth from one night to the next?
The first couple of shots in practice were tough sometimes but I learned to adjust quickly. I just found that after making Team Canada the schedule allowed for less time for 5-pin so I decided to concentrate on one versus trying to juggle both games.
You took a 6-year hiatus from 5-Pin when you joined "Team Canada". Once you returned to 5-Pin, how much time (if any) did it take to get your game back?
Believe it or not almost 2 years from the time I started back. I was not physically ready to bowl more than league for that time.
What was it like to play on the Ladies' 10-Pin Pro Tour?
Great, even though I didn’t do very well. It’s a tough life. Different city every week, finding your own way there and having to be at the top of your game on a different lane condition from week to week. It’s not easy at all and I tip my hat to all the Pro players out there.
In terms of time, dedication, etc, how different is the Pro Tour? And because it's a job, is it more serious?
It is more serious on the lanes for sure but off the lanes they are just normal athletes. There is training, practicing, and equipment to take care of, or get ready for the next tour stop. Sometimes it is hard to find the time to practice when you are travelling 18 hours to the next tournament and you only have 2 days to get there.
In 10-Pin, the goal for a right-hander is to hit the "1-3" pocket. Do you shoot for a pocket in 5-Pin?
It depends on which line I am playing! LOL. If I am standing to the left of centre and throwing a backup I aim for the left pocket. If I am standing in the same spot and throwing a hook I am for the right pocket. If I am standing to the right of centre, hook or back up I am aiming for the right pocket. (Confused yet??)
If you're punching headpins in succession, what is your first adjustment?
Move back 2 inches on the approach.
If you need 16 in the tenth frame, would you "play thinner" or "go after it"?
I always go for it. I have tried to “chisel” the shot and I always end up missing. So I throw the same shot I would on any other first ball.
You've had success as both a Singles competitor and playing on a Team. Which do you prefer, and why?
Team, as it is more fun and there are people there to support you right in the “pit” with you, helping you if you are struggling (score) and otherwise. In Singles there are supporters there but you are on the lanes alone with no one to help you out score-wise.
What is your favourite 5-Pin event?
Who (if anyone) has really influenced your "adult" 5-Pin career?
My parents years ago, but players would be John Willock and Claudina Lista. I learned a lot from just watching them.
And definitely two of the classiest and most gracious people I've encountered as well!
Any current players you really enjoy watching? (And why?)
Brenda Walters hardly ever misses the headpin and no matter what condition is out there she will find a way to score well.
There are a few men that I enjoy watching, mostly because of the same reason as Brenda, they always find a way to score even on tough conditions, and they throw a LOT of strikes. They are Jeff Young, Martin Talbot and Wade Thompson.
Amongst all of your 5-Pin accomplishments, do any stand out as your proudest?
They all hold a significant place but my first perfect game in league in 1986. My dad was bowling on the same team as me when I threw it.
And overall, what would be the proudest of your entire career?
Winning my first National Championship at 10 years old. I never thought I could do it.
Do you have any embarrassing moments to pass along?
My first and only appearance on the CBC Championship Series, I threw a 168 game on TV.
I can probably guess, but what's it like to be a "Hall-of'-Famer"?
Amazing, again I never thought I would ever do it in a sport that I just started to play. It’s a great but humbling accomplishment.
Now we'll put you on the spot. Everyone will say that their sport is the hardest. You have the unique perspective of having played 5, 10 AND Duck at the highest level. Which game is the most difficult to be really good at?
They all have their moments! I think that duckpin is the hardest. Even when you throw a pocket shot you aren’t guaranteed a strike. Spares are tough, you have to read the lanes and see what is happening with the pins as well. It’s no wonder no one has ever thrown a perfect game….it’s tough!
You obviously get to spend a lot of time with younger bowlers at the O5PBA Bowling School. What advice would you give to a younger bowler who wants to improve?
Practice and practice effectively. If it’s possibly try and get someone to tape you and then go over the tape with your coach. Seeing it is easier to explain and fix.
And finally, have you noticed anything in the way that Duckpin or
Tenpin operates that would be useful or enhance our game?
They are more organized on the duckpin tours, have uniform regulations as well as fines for being late for squad check in and even for errors on your scorecard. I think that some of these could be implemented into the 5-pin world.
For all the ladies tour stops they announce all the bowlers and play the national anthems before every qualifying squad. It’s very professional.
On behalf of the readers, I'd like to thank both Connie and Fraser for their thoughts and their time in providing great insight into our game. Our goal with this segment is not only to profile and showcase our game's great players, but to also use their knowledge and experience to help other bowlers, regardless of their age or ability.
And isn't that the great thing about our game, that we can access and meet our idols and mentors? I mean, in what other sport would you see upwards of fifty of the game's finest teachers and players give up summer vacation time to help out dozens of teenagers, as they do each year at our O5PBA Bowling School?
Many of us have been fortunate enough to play with, and against, the people we've always looked up to. I still can't believe that, as a teenager drafting his first "major league" team, my first two picks were Nick Pagniello and Chuck Park!! Legends! On top of that, Fraser refers to me "Stevie" and Donny Betts calls me "Bark"! Can't beat that!!
Oh yeah, you may be wondering why this is called "23 Questions" when, in two interviews, neither one had 23 questions?? Well, we had to call it something and "23" is my favourite number. Ryne Sandberg and Don Mattingly both wore it. Growing up, they were my baseball heroes. I never got to meet THEM!