Bob Hanson was just 18 when he bowled his first 300 game.
He remembers that day in 1977 when he threw 12 consecutive strikes on lanes 9 and 10 at Tower Lanes in Tacoma. At the time he was the third bowler to ever record a 300 game in the history of the Tacoma Junior League. The achievement, which made the front page of the Tacoma News Tribune, was just one of many milestones in Hanson’s 47-year career. But nothing has topped being part of the WSU men’s 1982 national championship bowling team, he says. “When you win something with the team, it is an unbelievable feeling.”
Hanson picked up his first bowling ball at Tower Lanes when he was six. When he turned 15 he got a job at the bowling center and worked there until starting college at the University of Washington. The school wasn’t for him, though. He dropped out and tried construction until he broke his left arm in 16 places.
Unable to work for nearly a year, he still couldn’t stay away from the bowling lanes. While visiting a friend at WSU he saw the men’s bowling team practicing at the Compton Union Building. The 19-year-old, who had recovered, jumped in on the practice. The teammates were impressed and urged him to enroll at WSU and join them. “They said, ‘We have a pretty good bowling team and you can have all the free bowling you want,’” he says.
“I was driving home thinking, ‘All the free bowling I want? Really?’”He joined a team of close-knit bowlers not well known in the collegiate bowling scene, but on the rise. The Cougars finished runners-up at the nationals in 1980 during Hanson’s first season. The following year WSU didn’t advance out of sectionals, but Hanson placed second in the Western Division as an individual. In 1982 the Cougars advanced to nationals for the second time in three years. After a rough set on the first day of the tournament, they hovered near last out of 12. But the following day they rallied, setting two national records to vault them to the top where they defeated Michigan State for the title.
Over his career, Hanson has won bigger tournaments, “but when you win singles, everyone else lost,” he says. Winning with a team makes the success even sweeter. “When you bowl on national television and you win a national championship there is nothing better than winning a big tournament with teammates.” Hanson’s collegiate career ended with the national title. He graduated in 1982 majoring in business and in 1984 married Carrie Meske, a member of the WSU women’s bowling team. Two other of his teammates also married bowlers from the women’s team.
After graduation, Hanson started work for AMF Bowling and at 23 was managing a bowling center in Tacoma. Then he went into real estate for 18 years while continuing his competitive bowling career. Wanting to get back in the bowling business, Hanson bought some bowling alley shops and became manager of Tower Lanes. About four years ago when the business was up for sale, Hanson and some partners bought the bowling center. Today in his Tower Lanes office he displays a WSU bowling ball and his 1982 National Championship shoe bags. Hanson has repeated that 300-game landmark 33 times. He bowled his 34th 300 game at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships in Baton Rouge last spring. It had been his goal to reach the 300 feat at the tournament for 22 years. He came close, finishing with a 289 last year—missing on the 11th frame. This year, “When I got the 11th (strike) everyone stopped bowling and started to come over to watch,” Hanson says. “I was nervous because I wanted that so bad because I’m getting older and those opportunities don’t just jump at you all the time. When I let go of the 12th ball it came off so clean.” Though Hanson has reached yet another one of his bowling career goals, there are no signs of the 53-year-old slowing down. He has never taken a year off from the sport and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. Now his sights are set on earning a spot on the Professional Bowling Association’s senior tour.