Right up his alley: Northwood man on top of the leaderboard in national bowling competition

Published 7:57 pm Thursday, May 18, 2023

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NORTHWOOD — Matthew Grunzke likes bowling. The owner and operator of Strike Zone in Northwood, he enjoys the sport so much he competes in tournaments.

And April 29 to 30, he participated in the 119th United States Bowling Congress Open, an event that runs from March through late July, at the USBC Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada, an event that happens every year. By his estimation, around 50,000 five-person teams have competed or will compete.

“It’s quite a few teams, and they run every day throughout the whole four or five months,” Grunzke said. “You can only bowl it once, it’s not one of those tournaments you can bowl more.”

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When his team was there, around 30 teams competed.

The tournament is divided into three sets, with each set made up of three games: team, singles and doubles. There are also three divisions: standard, classified and regular. The divisions are related to bowling ability. Grunzke competed in the standard division, which he described as the “middle” division.

His team, made up of bowling acquaintances, consisted of Abby and Brenton Bice, Tim Ritzert and Randy Hassman. Ritzert was also his doubles partner.

Currently, the team is within the top 10, while he and Ritzert (his doubles teammate) were slightly lower. Individually he’s within the top 20.

All of that combined meant he was currently leading the all-events category, a combination of scores from team, singles and doubles.

He was surprised to hear his ranking and said this year was just a good year.

“Normally when you go to nationals it’s more of a vacation type of thing, and … I always tell everyone, especially the first time that they go to a nationals, it humbles you because it’s a very, very difficult bowling shot,” he said.

And as he was packing his bowling equipment, he was greeted by a person who told him he was leading in all events in his division.

Describing the event as difficult, he said there was constant thinking and a need to remain consistent.

According to Grunzke, the event rotates yearly, with last year’s in Las Vegas, as well as next year’s.

He said it would be amazing to finish within the top five, but said just remaining in a high position was great.

This was his 21st year participating, noting the event was something his father did for over 30 years.

“He’s always gone to that and then when I was old enough then I was going with him, and it was just one of those things that we always kind of did every year,” he said, adding that he started when he was 4.

For him, bowling represented a social sport that could double as a competitive one.

“You don’t need to be great at it,” he said. “Anyone can come and bowl.”

Grunzke, who always wanted to own a bowling alley and worked in one venue or another since he was 14, bought Strike Zone in 2019, months before the pandemic started.

Owning a bowling alley has had ebbs and flows, and he was happy the business survived COVID after only owning it for six months.

“We were able to do some delivery for meals and stuff right away, and then when they opened up a little bit, then we were able to get some people in here, which helped,” he said. “… We must have done something right, and the community was great to support us to make it through that COVID for owning it for that little bit of time.”

Grunzke plans to move up to the regular (top) division next year, the category in which many of the professional bowlers compete.