Back-to-back-to-back perfect games. Thirty-six consecutive strikes.
A mind-boggling bowling feat – a perfect three-game series – accomplished despite staggering odds.
Late into the night on Nov. 9, 1998, at Classic Lanes in Greenfield, 28-year-old Tony Roventini rolled strike after strike on the way to becoming only the second bowler ever, and the first southpaw, to record a United States Bowling Congress-approved 900 series.
Roventini, now 50, recalls his out-of-this-world accomplishment more than two decades ago in vivid detail. That Monday night – the Green Bay Packers were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers as he made his assault on the pins – he bowled on lanes 3 and 4 at the 16-lane alley.
He finished practice with four or five straight strikes. He then recorded his first 300 game of the night during league action. Then another.
“There are some days when you just feel your timing is right,” Roventini says during a recent chat at Classic Lanes in Oak Creek, where he keeps a watchful eye on his 9-year-old son, Logan, who with a 160 average is a whiz on the lanes himself.
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As Roventini continued to rack up strikes in the third game, his teammates began to steer clear, not wanting to break his concentration. “By the time it got to seven or eight strikes, nobody was talking to me no more. Now, I was thinking about it,” Roventini says. “It wasn’t jittery nerves. It was more the pressure of, if I don’t finish this off, it could be the difference between doors that would open versus doors that would never be open.”
After he rolled the first two strikes in the 10th frame, putting him on the cusp of bowling glory, Roventini requested that the music blaring from the jukebox be turned down.
He then began to make his approach for his final ball but immediately realized that his thumb hadn’t set correctly in his ball. “I stepped off and reset,” he says. “Then I went up there and threw the ball. It was just like all the rest. I knew It was a good shot. It did everything I wanted. It struck and the whole place just went berserk.”
One thing that remains foggy for Roventini is his immediate reaction as all 10 pins toppled. “All I remember is that somehow I ended up on lane 12,” he recalls. “I ran it out, I guess, maybe a lot farther than I thought.”
Television news crews rushed to the alley. “They all had me bowl some more,” says the burly Roventini, who has worked at Milsco Manufacturing in Milwaukee for 33 years. Still in a groove, he rolled another eight consecutive strikes before leaving a corner pin standing on his ninth attempt.
Roventini’s 900 series came a little less than two years after 20-year-old Jeremy Sonnenfeld recorded the first-ever USBC-approved perfect series in Lincoln, Nebraska. (A perfect series bowled by Glenn Allison in 1982 but never approved remains in dispute to this day).
Roventini is one of only 36 bowlers with a 900 series, but he’s not the only one from the Milwaukee area. In April 2006, Mark Wukoman, 50, also recorded a perfect series at the same alley where Roventini made history. Eight months later, P.J. Giesfeldt, 24, matched the feat at Burnham Bowl in West Milwaukee.
Greater Milwaukee is the only city where multiple bowlers have achieved a 900 series.
The odds of reaching perfection on the lanes are astronomical, says Jeff Richgels, a USBC Hall of Famer who pens the bowling blog, 11thFrame.com. “It’s like getting struck by a bolt of lightning or having two holes in one in a round of golf,” Richgels says.
Changes in bowling ball technology and a shift to synthetic lanes has made the perfect series slightly less rare these days. Roventini rolled his 900 series on wood lanes.
The perfect performance created some fame for Roventini, but little fortune. A full-fledged professional career never materialized. He’s not alone. Few members of the 900 club have made it as pros.
“If you don’t have a major sponsorship, it’s expensive,” Roventini explains. “Week in and week out on the road, paying your own way.”
An accomplished kegler from an early age, Roventini, grew up on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side. He learned to bowl at the defunct Chris Corners lanes. He has rolled a 300 game 91 times and totaled an 800 series on 74 occasions.
He already had a bit of a pro career prior to the 900 series, which included an impressive victory in a Professional Bowlers Association regional tournament in 1995.
“If you can win a PBA regional title, that says a lot about your ability,” Richgels says. “Having one night that is beyond all belief is not like competing day after day against top-level bowlers. That 900 is less indicative of how good a bowler he is than winning a PBA regional. If you look down that list of 900 shooters, Tony is probably one of the more accomplished guys on there.”
Roventini, whose wife, Rochelle, is a member of the Wisconsin State USBC Hall of Fame, still bowls and has hoisted trophies in top-level amateur tournaments. He’s contemplating joining the PBA50, the professional senior tour.
“I’ve still got the fire,” Roventini says.