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Bowling great James Lou Lewis passes

OW Staff | 11/3/2010, 9:58 p.m.

Born in Jackson, Miss., and raised in Chicago, Lou developed a passion for competing. He was an intense competitor, and in his younger years, had an interest in baseball.

According to long-time friend and teammate, Norman Leche, both he and Lou moved to Los Angeles in 1955 to play in the Negro Baseball Leagues and the California Stockton Baseball League. He as a versatile athlete, playing short-stop, pitcher and a host of other positions. Among the teams he played for was the Indiana Clowns.

Lewis was also an avid bowler at the time, so the pair would often spend much of their spare time in bowling centers. As a result of his experiences with segregation and racism, he eventually channeled his interest into bowling with The National Bowling Association (TNBA), the predominantly African American organization founded to give African Americans an opportunity to compete on a national level.

In his heyday, he came to be known as "the stroker" and was one of leading contenders within the Los Angeles/Southern California bowling scene. He was a member exclusive Greater Los Angeles All Stars Traveling League, and at one point, a cardholder for in the local Pacific Coast Bowlers (PCB) and the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA).

Lewis was also instrumental in developing the foundation of the Los Angeles Senate of TNBA. This came about because during the 1960's, he traveled the country participating in other TNBA events and eventually decided to take an active role organizing the first senate meeting at Fremont High School back in 1969.
Lewis' single-handed membership recruitment drive helped propel the senate into its current existence, and fathered several strong TNBA leagues along the way.

His performances on the lanes featured a rock solid textbook approach, follow through, and delivery that went unmatched by any challengers. Lewis' technique was revered by many who regularly took the opportunity to watch him compete, and his high-end pot game matches would usually left his adversaries (often including visiting PBA bowlers) walking away licking their wounds. Even at the age of 81, the father of three remained competitive, and despite having to learn to bowl with his left hand due to an accident which left him unable to use his dominant hand.

"He has always been a bowler. I grew up at Trojan Bowl, and he worked the food counter there until it closed," recalled daughter Tara Lewis. "He was a PBA card holder. He actually bowled a few perfect games. I remember when he hurt his right arm. But that wasn't going to keep him from bowling. He taught himself to use his left hand and ended up bowling a 300. He has bowled left-handed ever since.

"He also played baseball in the Negro League with the Indiana Clowns as a short stop, third baseman, and a pitcher. He played sports all his life from basketball to baseball, football and even some boxing.

"He worked at the post office briefly and worked at the Veteran's Administration Hospital, which is where he retired from. Then in December 2009 he caught pneumonia; he got through it, but he never fully regained his strength."