Defying The Odds – Better With Age?
By Fraser Hambly
Is it possible that a bowler can have the best years of his/her career past the age of sixty? Like a good wine that gets better with age, John Mattioli seems to exemplify that adage. In all sports, one’s ability diminishes with age. Even in golf, the oldest winner ever on the Regular Tour was 52. On the Senior Tour the oldest winner has been 63, and there have only been a few winners over the age of 60. Obviously, in sports you don’t get better after a certain age, but in 5-pin bowling, John Mattioli seems to DEFY THE ODDS.
Born in Fano, Italy in 1938, John immigrated to Canada in 1959, settling in Toronto in 1960. Always a fine bocce player, John won numerous tourneys with Vic Terminesi in the 60’s, and started 5-pin bowling in 1962. He quickly established himself and bowled with the famous Darrigo’s team in the top major leagues of the day. In fact, he qualified to bowl on the early CBC show in 1963 – only a year after he started bowling. John continued to improve and was a member of the Eastern Canadian Men’s team representing Toronto in 1968. Entering the final game, the Toronto team was 239 behind the Niagara team when John bowled a 389 as part of a 1500+ game that propelled the Toronto team to a 14 pin victory. In ’72 and’73, John won the high average in the Friday night Major league with marks of 269 and 275, and he captured an Ace Invitational in ‘72 with a final game of 378 to overtake “yours truly” who had the lead and bowled a 335. He also won the Streetsville Classic in the early 70’s. Clearly, John was a fine player, but the best was yet to come – many years later!
John cut back on his bowling beginning in ‘74 because of arm problems and he developed a “rubber-banded duckpin reverse spin” delivery. John bowled only once a week from ’74 to ’83 and qualified intermittently for the Open. In ’83 John joined the MBAO and started working on his game once more. In ’85 he switched back to a conventional delivery. He started averaging 260 in his leagues, but not in the Masters and he wasn’t winning tournaments.
John began to turn it all around in ’88 at the age of 50, and he won some important titles in his 60’s and he is still winning at the age of 73. From ’88 on, he qualified for the Ontario Open virtually every year and he almost won the Singles in 2000 losing a tough final to David Michael 285-320. He was a member of the 2002 victorious Central Ontario Men’s team, 34 years after having won with Toronto!! In the MBAO he kept improving and won 2 tournaments in ’98, and was a member of the ’99 and ’00 Ontario Men’s team – the ’00 team winning gold. In addition, he won the strong MBAO Senior men’s scratch aggregate in ’01, ’07 (won POA also), ’10, and he leads in ’11 after the first 3 tourneys. John also became successful in other tournaments and high averages. He won the NEB’s 369 tourney and $2000 in ’01 and he won the high average in the Toronto Major League in ’99 and ’01. He also won the Streetsville Majors high average in ’98, ’99 and ’00 averaging over 270 each year, and he has won the Brampton Majors high average every year but twice since ’03, and is presently leading again with 267. John also won the prestigious Cadbury Bowlerama Ontario Match Play tournament in ’02. He opened the ’03 season with a victory in an MBAO Seniors Event and has won 4 more times since, including the opening event this year. He also threw the winning shots in the inaugural Ontario Senior Open in ’04. It’s truly remarkable that he has had this incredible success, especially in his 60’s and 70’s!!!
All of this begs the question – How did he get better with age? Obviously John always had considerable talent. Like most other good players, he went through a rough spot in his bowling career. However, what’s truly remarkable is that John eventually retuned to a level higher than before, and he did it at an age when most other’s careers are on the downturn. John credits his resurgence to several factors. Personalized balls and improved shoes were important to him. Bowling more again was beneficial, his ball working better on the newer lane conditions, and keeping in good physical condition were also factors. But the two biggest factors were that he was hungry to get back into competition, and that success started breeding more and more confidence.
John was inducted into the Central Ontario 5-Pin Bowling Hall of Fame in ’00 and into the O5PBA in ’04. Although other bowlers across the country have performed at a fairly high level into their sixties and seventies, probably nobody has had so much success – and he is most likely not done yet – after all he has DEFIED THE ODDS successfully already!!!