Chicago bowler of the half-century

June 13, 2013

When bowling was big and Chicago was the bowling capital of the world, the greatest bowler in Chicago was Paul Krumske. And there’s one story about Paul Krumske they always tell.

During one close match, Krumske suddenly keels over on the lane, grabbing his chest and gasping for breath. The match stops. Medical help is summoned, and Krumske is revived. He gamely declares that he will go on.

By now the opposition is totally unnerved–especially when Krumske rolls the next half-dozen strikes.

This incident happened during the famous match Krumske bowled against Ned Day . . . or in a team match in the Chicago Classic League . . . or in a tournament in Detroit . . . or was it in a late-night pot game at Marigold? Maybe he faked heart attacks on all those occasions.

After the first few times, though, you’d think the other bowlers would get wise, and just step over Paul as they bowled.

Born on the South Side in 1912, Krumske dropped out of high school to go to work as a clerk at a meat-packing plant. One evening, when he was 17, the boss needed a sub on his bowling team. Krumske volunteered.

He learned fast. Within five years Krumske had rolled his first 300 game and was carrying one of the highest averages in the city. The papers started running stories about the new boy wonder of bowling.

There wasn’t any pro bowling then. The better bowlers all had day jobs. They made money by getting on a top-flight team, then competing in leagues and tournaments–or by rolling matches against other hotshots.

Krumske followed this route. He bowled in the city’s best league, the Chicago Classic, for nearly forty years. For twenty years he was league secretary. Recognized as one of the country’s top players, he was named to the annual All-American team seven times.

His finest moment came in 1944. Ned Day was bowling’s match-game champion–the equivalent of boxing’s heavyweight champ. He’d never been beaten in a head-to-head match. But Krumske challenged him, and won the title in an 80-game showdown.

In 1951 a newspaper poll named Krumske Chicago’s “Bowler of the Half-Century.” Bowling was starting to enjoy boom times. By now Krumske was endorsing bowling products and giving exhibitions for an equipment manufacturer. He also had a full-time job at the Peter Hand Brewery.

His title was Sports Director. That meant Krumske was captain of the brewery’s famed Meister Brau Beer bowling team. By staying in the news, the team helped sell beer. Also, as secretary of the Chicago Classic, Krumske could convince bowling proprietors to stock Meister Brau in their bars.

Krumske appeared on the many bowling shows that were popular in the early days of TV. For a while he had his own local program called “Bowl the Professor.” In 1957 comedian Jerry Lewis made a surprise visit, bowling a hilarious one-game match against Krumske. The tape of that show was later used for charity fund-raising.

Like most athletes, Krumske’s skills declined as he grew older. His bowling winnings shrank. His exhibition contract was not renewed. Then, in 1972, the brewery closed.

Krumske did some instructing and ran a few tournaments. Early in 1979 he decided to make a fresh start and moved to Florida. That same summer, Paul Krumske died in his new Boca Raton home.

The cause of death was a heart attack.