If tomorrow you woke up and were told it's your job to make sure Pete Weber, Norm Duke, Rhino Page, Jason Belmonte, and Ryan Shafer all make this Sunday's ESPN Finals of the 69th edition of bowling's US Open, what would you do? Well, that's exactly what Chris Schlemer ("Schlem" is his nickname) has been responsible for doing over the past decade as Storm & Roto Grip's tour consultant.
Schlem grew up just outside of St. Louis on the Illinois side of the river in Edwardsville. As a youngster he primarily played basketball and baseball. At age 14 he discovered bowling and immediately took interest in drilling bowling balls while visiting the Striking Revolutions pro shop inside Cottonwood Lanes. It was a man named Randy Labardi that took the time to teach young Schlemer about the game of bowling and more importantly how bowling balls "work."
His own bowling game wasn't too shabby as he competed in local youth tournaments and the JBC traveling league with a 200 average. For those that never got the chance to watch him compete, let's just say hard and straight is his game. I would like to see the PBA produce a "feel good" Xtra Frame exhibition where tour consultants compete against one another while their staff players coach them. This would make for an excellent after-show for the PBA.
At 17 years of age, Chris was given the opportunity by proprietor Bill Netzhammer to work in the pro shop at Bowl Haven Lanes in Alton, Illinois. While drilling bowling balls, Chris also found time to complete a computer drafting degree from ITT technical college. It was during these years that Schlem mastered his craft. Bowl Haven's pro shop became one of the busiest shops in the area as Chris's personal touch along with his pinpoint accuracy attracted customers from as far as an hour away.
His shop became a "Striking Effects" pro shop which meant Chris could carry all Ebonite products by ordering directly from the factory instead of purchasing through a distributor. It was here that Schlem told me he met "Double B." He was referring to Brian Bertsch. It was his friendship and networking with Double B that began his path to the PBA Tour.
You see, Bertsch saw something special in Schlem and suggested bigger and better things. At age 22, Chris was asked if he wanted to fill in on the PWBA tour truck by drilling bowling balls for the ladies' tour. The first stop was in his own back yard at St. Clair Bowl in Fairview Heights, Illinois. It was here that he worked for Tony Hall (Director of Player Services for the PWBA) alongside Shawn Morris who is now a West Coast salesman for Ebonite.
Schlemer took the position and never looked back. He drilled on the Ladies' Tour truck for 2 years and after his first year, he became the Ladies' Tour rep for Visionary Bowling Products thanks to his friendship with John Wonders and his family. Wonders founded Faball Enterprises (Hammer brand) and later launched Visionary Bowling Products.
He found early success with Visionary by having several ladies make TV shows. Schlem's strategy was to get to know each woman individually and come up with a game plan that felt comfortable to each of them each week. At a PWBA tour stop in Davie, Florida in 2000 Schlemer earned his very first title as Debbie McMullin won using a Pink Warlock DC. Schlemer's hard work and feel good approach was soon to pay off in a very big way.
In the spring of 2001, Chris interviewed with Bill Chrisman, Bill Supper, Hank Boomershine, and Steve Kloempken from Storm products for the position of Storm Tour Consultant for the PWBA, PBA and Senior PBA tours. This position was being sought after by many very talented men with very solid resumes, but it was Schlem whom Storm wanted.
The success of Storm's professional athletes for all three major professional bowling tours was now left to a 24-year-old Schlemer. He told me during this interview that his colleagues still give him trouble because he wasn't even old enough to rent a car when he first was hired with Storm. He began his work with Storm on the women's tour, which he was very familiar with. His first real test would come during the second week of September 2001 when he would now be advising Pete Weber and fellow Storm staff members on the PBA Tour. His first week was delayed one week due to the tour being cancelled because of 9/11.
Again, instant success came just four weeks in to the fall schedule in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pete Weber ("PDW") made the show and was in pursuit to tie his legendary father, Dick Weber, for number of tour titles at 26. It was this show that Schlemer remembers as if it were yesterday. Weber bowled 299 on the way to victory, but it wasn't the 299 that Schlem remembers most. It's the ball choices that made this show so memorable. Schlem advised PDW to use two different balls on that show: an Eraser on the right lane and an Exit on the left lane. While doing my research for this feature, I was able to find an article in the USA Today from 2002 that explains in more detail the state of the PBA tour at that time. Also, if you want to watch the 299 game you can watch part 1 and part 2.
Over the next decade, under his direction, Schlemer's brand and staffers had the most television appearances in the industry. His initial years on tour meant traveling 35-40 weeks per year between all 3 tours. When the women's tour folded in 2003, he then also was asked to share his words of wisdom at clinics and trade shows. He has gained the respect of everyone on tour and has solidified himself as one of the best tour consultants known to our sport. His upbeat personality and ability to always see the glass half-full while taking the time to genuinely take interest in helping others is what makes him so special. If tour consultants had a hall of fame, I think Chris would be a first-ballot entrant.
Chris has recently accepted a new role at Roto Grip as marketing manager. I'm sure this is just another step to the top of the ladder for him and I personally wish him all the best. Chris is one of the good guys from the St. Louis area that has made quite a name for himself in the bowling industry. More impressively, Chris has been able to make a positive impact on bowling without ever having to throw a bowling ball professionally. Chris told me that "there have been more downs than ups, but the passion is still there." Even though the torch of tour consultant has been passed on to the great Del Ballard, Chris is still on call when Del is not available. This week you will see Chris at the 69th US Open helping out as always.
Lastly, Chris wanted me to let everyone know that he loves helping others no matter their skill level. Recently he mapped out a ball for a sub 200 average bowler in Vegas and they had instant success in the tournament. "It's that feeling that never gets old" said Schlem. His mission is the same as the company he works for: "We're the bowler's company.... that's who I'm here for!"
Here are a few questions I asked Chris during this interview:
Question: What telecast stands out as your favorite?
Answer: I think the most memorable was the tournament of champions where we had 3 guys of the 4 on the show... Odd man out was Barnes. He had played the lanes a certain way all week and used his own equipment to build a shot each round. Well, I decided to put the kybosh to that so when it came time to practice before the telecast, we let him bowl alone on the TV pair for half of the practice. He got frazzled and then we stuck it to him by using dull balls next to where he was building his look. By the end of practice, my guys all moved another arrow left and wheeled the lane. Barnes was left with through the face, or a bucket reaction. Pate Healey ended up winning left of 4th arrow.
Question: Who is easiest bowler to work with on tour?
Answer: To be honest, all the guys are easy. The trick is the personalities which I have managed to learn over the years and communicate on their level.
Question: Who is very hard-headed and/or was tough to get through to?
Answer: Anyone who is not getting the breaks. We all can get stubborn time to time, but it is out of the competitiveness and passion for the game.
Question: Has any bowler ever tipped you? Or what was the best gift you have received from a bowler?
Answer: Yes I have earned plenty of tips over the years... "Don't eat yellow snow was a good one." LOL No really some guys have taken good care of me over the years. I have received money, watches, clothes and plenty of good eats and drinks.
Question: Now that you are marketing manager, where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Answer: The goal of this step is to become brand manager. This is the starting point to learning the ropes on the business side and I am excited to be with the best ball company on the plant.
Question: Do you have any messages for anyone back home?
Answer: I'd like to give a shout out to all those from the gateway/junior archway days and to all those friends I have made over the years either from drilling balls for them back in the day, to crossing paths later in life. Hope everyone back in St. Louis is doing well.
Question: Are the Cardinals, Rams and Blues still your teams? What's it like cheering for them in Utah?
Answer: Yes still a diehard St. Louis fan. Unfortunately I just moved and can't get a signal to keep DirecTV. It was cool having the NFL ticket and MLB package so I could keep up. Going to be tough for awhile until I can get a place where I can get DirecTV again. As far as cheering for sports here in Utah, wow is it a culture shock. All they have here professionally is the Utah Jazz. Even those fans don't seem to truly understand the sport. So even that is difficult to attend and sit through. Luckily still getting to travel I get to catch different sporting events on the road or just go on road trips to catch games.
Question: What are some of your favorite St. Louis places to go?
Answer: I have to say that I miss going to the Cards, Rams, Blues games for sure. Nothing better than St. Louis sports. Best fans on Earth! But I do also miss me some Imo's pizza for sure.
Question: Your hair changes constantly! Describe your sense of style and what you are trying to accomplish.
Answer: This is funny. You know I don't really have a plan for my hair. I just go with it. I get bored, I change it. I see it as I have hair and knock on wood... it grows quickly. So, if I have a bad haircut, no worries... it will grow out soon enough.