No announcement yet.

Bowlers Honor Man Who Died After His First Perfect Game

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Bowlers Honor Man Who Died After His First Perfect Game

    Courtesy New York Times via

    An old photograph of Don Doane, far left, who bowled a 300 on Oct. 16, then died of a heart attack while being congratulated.

    Published: December 7, 2008

    RAVENNA, Mich. — News of Don Doane’s death on Oct. 16 traveled the world, if only for the peculiarity of its timing. Short accounts — man bowls his first perfect game, then dies — appeared in newspapers and across countless computer screens. On a table at Ravenna Bowl on Thursday night, a temporary shrine held two such blurbs. One was from Sports Illustrated. One was from a newspaper in Thailand.

    Adam Bird for The New York Times
    Don Doane’s son, Chad, and wife, Linda, with commemorative rings.

    But a life is not a blurb. And that is why, on a snowy December night in a western Michigan town that has no stoplights, this 16-lane bowling alley was filled with people. They did not come to celebrate the odd circumstance of Doane’s death, but the commonness of his life.
    And, of course, it was league night.

    His widow and son tearfully accepted the honorary “300” rings in front of Lanes 11 and 12. Eleven members of the Muskegon chapter of the United States Bowling Congress wore matching sports coats, shirts and ties.

    Among the relatives and friends watching the short ceremony were the 80 members of the Commercial League, which bowls every Thursday night at 6:30. One of the five-man teams is called Nutt Farms, and it recently had to recruit Doane’s replacement.

    They set aside their beers and cigarettes and conversations and huddled in silence, just as they did a few Thursdays ago when the volunteer firemen and the paramedics tried to revive Doane.
    This was where Doane, 62, bowled the first 300 game of his life. This was where he received the hugs and high-fives. And this was where he turned to shake another hand and collapsed of a heart attack.

    “I often wonder if the 300 game caused it, or if would have happened anyway,” Frank Coletta, an 80-year-old with a 166 average, said between frames.

    Long ago, Coletta was director of the recreation center, and he knew Doane as a Little League player. But now he remembers shaking Doane’s hand and telling him, “Looks like anybody can bowl a 300 game,” and Doane, always the likable smart-aleck, responding, “Even a guy your age.”
    Those might have been Doane’s last words. Coletta, like everyone else there that night, remembered Doane falling, the ensuing mayhem, and the eerie silence. Coletta also remembered his wife asking why he was home early. He remembered not being able to respond, then crying.
    “The little guy affected me like that,” Coletta said.
    Doane was about 5 feet 7 inches, with a gambler’s guile and a heckler’s panache. Golfing buddies like Erv Klein and Doug Henrickson called him Little Feller, the spark plug who always seemed to win, whether in bowling, golf or cards. The 300 game? He had done it again.
    A favorite family story involves a traffic officer who tossed coins on the ground and asked Doane to retrieve a quarter, to test his sobriety. Mr. Doane picked up two dimes and a nickel. Sober, but given a ride in the squad car.

    “That summed him up,” his wife, Linda Doane, said.

    She met “my husband, my companion, my sparring partner” at Ravenna Bowl more than 40 years ago, when he was already a league regular and she worked the snack stand. He was four years older, just beginning a career as a welder and a machinist. They married in September 1969. She was just out of high school. Their son, Chad, is 36.

    Doane had a doo-wopper’s swoosh of hair, which went silver years ago, and a persistent golfer’s tan. He often told people that he wanted nothing more in life than a hole in one and a 300 game. The ace came in 1999, on the eighth hole at Rogue River Golf Course in Sparta, Mich. Doane played 18 holes the morning of his death.

    “From a faith point of view, we all hope we can accomplish what God has put before us,” said the Rev. Tony De La Rosa at Conklin Reformed Church, where Doane was a deacon. “And that we don’t linger, that we get called home. He went out with a bang. What a blessing.”

    At McNitt Cemetery, a bucket of golf balls sat next to Doane’s coffin. One by one, mourners grabbed a ball and tossed it into the grave.

    Inside the coffin were two “300” rings, similar to high school class rings. One came from Todd Place, a member of the Nutt Farms team — named for the corn and alfalfa farm owned by the family of Jim Nutt, the bowling alley’s owner and a teammate of Doane’s since 1963. Place has earned three of the rings. He knew that they took weeks to arrive.

    Adam Bird for The New York Times
    A plaque marking Don Doane’s 300 game.

    “I wanted him to take a ring with him,” Place said.

    The other came from Dave Spoelman. He and his wife, Coralee, were best friends with the Doanes. Through the years, they bought boats, snowmobiles and trail bikes, even a cottage on Lake Michigan together. They talked about retiring to a duplex.

    Ten years ago, Spoelman rolled his only 300 game. As he described the night, it struck him that it might have happened on Lanes 11 and 12, too. He went silent. Tears backed up in his eyes.

    “He gave me a big hug,” Spoelman finally said. He stopped again. His wife filled the empty space of the bowling alley restaurant.

    “That was Don,” she said. “He was always so happy for other people.”
    Spoelman caught his breath.

    “I set my ring down along with him,” he said.
    Doane was born and raised in Conklin, seven miles from the bowling alley. He lived in a gray house at the corner of the four-way stop. It is a few hundred yards from where he grew up and where his parents still live — his father, Mick, with a broken heart, his mother, Betty, with Alzheimer’s disease. She probably does not know that her oldest child is dead.

    Mick Doane, 85, helped comfort some of the 1,200 people who came to his son’s wake. Many waited in line for more than two hours outside the funeral home.

    “Don was on cloud nine” after the perfect game, Mick Doane told well-wishers. “And he liked it so much that he didn’t want to come down.”
    As the story was related on Thursday, Linda Doane turned to him.

    “He was halfway to heaven when he hit the floor, wasn’t he, Dad?” she said.

    The ring ceremony lasted only a couple of minutes, about as long as Doane had to enjoy his perfect game after his 12th consecutive strike.
    It was almost 6:30. Someone, somewhere, pushed a button, and the stoic silence of the bowling alley was interrupted by the sudden rumble and whir of the automatic pin-setting machines.

    A moment later, the room filled with bowling’s familiar clatter: the thunk of balls hitting hardwood, the hum as they spun down the lanes, the crack of the impact.

    Pins were falling. But nobody got them all.
    Last edited by BowlingTracker; 02-25-2009, 10:15 AM.

    High Series: 806
    High Games: 300 (3), 299 (2), 11 in a row

    My BowlingTracker Stats
    Lambda: James D. Smith

    Visit me on Facebook