Melrose–The pinnacle of bowling.

That’s how Craig Schiffler felt on May 2 when he saw Melrose Bowl Red on the top of the leader board during the 2019 United States Bowling Congress National Championships at South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas. 

“It’s something I’ve dreamt about, to be on the leader board. Words don’t describe what is was like to look up and see two Melrose Bowl teams in the top-10,” Schiffler said one week later, on May 8, sitting on a stool at Melrose Bowl, which he and wife Ginny own and run with their family, taking it over from Craig’s parents, Virg and Stella. 

Melrose Bowl Red had a team score of 3,301, moving them into first place, during the 122-day tournament that starts in March and ends in July, with close to 10,000 teams from around the world competing. To top that off, the Melrose Bowl Black team was in 10th place.  

“Totally amazing,” Schiffler “It hasn’t hit me yet and probably won’t until the end of July when it’s all done.” 

He and his teammates, ranging in age from the 30s to 60s, will have to wait until then to see if their score holds the top spot, and if Melrose Bowl Red stays in the top-10. The Schifflers sponsor both teams. 

Schiffler, 58, rattles off names of the other four men he bowled with on the Melrose Bowl Black team—Mike Wirz from Eau Claire, Wis.; John Hommes and Tom Jones, both from Minneapolis; and Christ Castle from Australia, who anchors the team.

Schiffler got to know the guys while bowling on a senior circuit seven years ago. They gelled and this year bowled in close to 10 tournaments. 

“Nationals is the ultimate tournament where you also have pro bowlers bowling,” said Schiffler. 

He is a strong believer that practice is a must in any sport, heeding his own advice.  

“If you want to be an exceptional athlete it has to come from the heart,” he said. 

Teams at nationals have 10 minutes to practice on the lanes. Melrose Bowl Red broke down the lanes, said Schiffler, explaining that has to do with oil on the lanes. They had a game plan. 

“I call us the scout team. We’re scouting to see what works and what doesn’t,” he said. 

The team started with a first game team total of 1,089, followed by 1,189. They knew they needed just over 900 to be on the leader board. With people gathering behind them to watch, including Schiffler’s nephew Zak Luetmer who bowled singles and doubles at nationals, they rolled a 1,023 giving them a total of 3,301, the highest team score scored in nationals at this bowling alley. 

The celebration began with hugs and handshakes “from people I didn’t even know, from peers and pro bowlers,” Schiffler said. 

In disbelief,  Schiffler took his bowling shoes off, and with tears in his eyes, looked at Wirz, fellow bowler and good friend, and said, “This is not supposed to happen to us. This is a young man’s game, but we know how to do it as a team.” 

For Schiffler, who grew to love this sport in his teens, learning from his dad, this was about as good as bowling his first 300. 

“This is like winning a state basketball tournament at 16 (which his nephew did), and I’m 58 and on top (for now) at a national tournament,” he said. 

He and Wirz, who also lost his dad, talked the next day about how their dads, early in their lives, taught them the sport of bowling, and then let them go their own ways. 

“Mike said, ‘Do you think your dad and my dad were getting us ready to be ready for this point in time?’ They let us go and we were ready,” said Schiffler.  

He figures lessons his cool and collected dad taught him had a hand in his calmness while bowling, even after he bowled four strikes in a row. 

“I was about as calm as I’ve ever been. I was in a zone. I didn’t realize what was going on; didn’t hear anything,” said Schiffler.   

He credits his team’s success to the closeness of his Melrose Bowl Red bowling buddies. 

“We look out for each other’s backs. It somebody’s not bowling good, others will hold you up,” Schiffler said. 

Memories of his Nationals experience will never be forgotten.

“If this stands and I get to bring two eagles (statues) home, one for me and one for the sponsors, that would be the ultimate,” he said. 

The top team is awarded individual eagles as trophies, along with the sponsor, and there are also cash prizes. 

“Even if we stay in the top-10, holy schmoly,” said Schiffler. “The joy of doing it, even if we get beat, it’s something I will always have.”  

It’s the perfect bowling pinnacle.